(CNN) — In the latest round of tit-for-tat between Beijing and Washington targeting each other’s media outlets, Chinese authorities have imposed new visa restrictions on foreign journalists working for US news organizations in China amid growing bilateral tensions.
In the past week, during the routine renewal of their press credentials — which are normally valid for a year — several journalists were handed a letter that said their applications were being processed, instead of a new press card. They were advised to carry the letter along with their expired press cards as proof of journalistic identity.
Since their Chinese visas are tied to their press cards, these journalists were issued a new visa valid for only about two months, much shorter than the usual one year.
Chinese authorities have made clear that the temporary press credentials — and the visas linked to them — can be revoked anytime, leaving affected journalists in a limbo without knowing for sure how long they would be able to remain in China.
Reporters being targeted include both US and non-US citizens from several major US media outlets. CNN correspondent David Culver, who is American, is among those impacted by Beijing’s latest move. The Wall Street Journal has reported its senior correspondent Jeremy Page, a British national, was also hit by the measure.
In a statement released Monday, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) noted that at least five journalists at four US news organizations have been affected in recent days, naming Bloomberg in addition to CNN and the Journal.
Culver was told by Chinese officials that the new restriction had nothing to do with his reporting but was a “reciprocal measure” in response to the Trump administration’s treatment of Chinese journalists in the United States.
A CNN spokesperson on Sunday confirmed Culver’s new shortened visa.
“One of our Beijing-based journalists was recently issued a visa valid for two months, instead of the usual twelve,” the spokesperson said. “However, our presence on the ground in China remains unchanged and we are continuing to work with local authorities to ensure that continues.”
The FCCC expressed “dismay” over the situation in its statement, adding that more foreign journalists based in China are expected to receive the letters instead of new press cards.
“These coercive practices have again turned accredited foreign journalists in China into pawns in a wider diplomatic conflict,” the statement said. “The FCCC calls on the Chinese government to halt this cycle of tit-for-tat reprisals in what is quickly becoming the darkest year yet for media freedoms.”
The US State Department revealed Sunday that its diplomats in Beijing had recently been informed of the Chinese government’s impending measures targeting US media in China.
“The United States is of course troubled that these proposed actions … will worsen the reporting environment in China,” said department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. “Beijing’s actions prove time and again that the [ruling Chinese Communist Party] is afraid of independent and investigative media reporting that has only broadened and deepened the world’s understanding of China for the better.”
In May, Washington limited the duration of stay for most US-based Chinese journalists to 90 days. Beijing claims none of its journalists has heard back from US authorities on the status of their latest applications for visa extension, which they say has seriously disrupted their work and life.
If no approval is granted, the Chinese journalists will have to leave the United States by early November, exactly when Culver’s new Chinese visa is set to expire.
Addressing the latest development, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Monday insisted that foreign journalists’ “reporting and life in China will not be affected in any way” even without new press cards in hand.
“For some time, the US has been escalating political oppression against Chinese media,” said Zhao Lijian at a regular press briefing. “The US has been taking discriminatory actions against Chinese media and even held Chinese journalists in the US as hostages to pressure China, showing its hypocrisy on so-called freedom of the press.”
“If the US truly cares about American journalists in China, it should extend visas for all Chinese journalists as soon as possible,” he added. “If the US insists on going down the wrong path, China will be compelled to take necessary actions to firmly uphold our legitimate rights and interests.”
Earlier this year, Beijing effectively expelled about a dozen journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal after the Trump administration capped the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work in the US offices of China’s state-run media, resulting in major staff cuts in these operations.
Since then, Washington has designated a growing number of US offices of China’s state-run news organizations as “foreign missions,” requiring them to file paperwork with US authorities on their finances and personnel. Beijing has hit back by demanding the same of multiple US outlets in China.
David Stilwell, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, has said the Chinese outlets were given the designation because the US government views them as propaganda outlets “effectively controlled by the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party” rather than independent news organizations.
In a press conference in Washington last Wednesday, Stilwell said Beijing’s “reciprocal” moves against US media were retaliations “grossly out of proportion to our simple desire to balance this relationship.”
“There’s 150 or more Chinese diplomats here — Chinese state media folks who work for the ministry of propaganda here in the US operating without restriction, and there’s only a handful of American journalists left in China right now,” he said. “Let’s paint that picture so everybody understands what we’re talking about.”