China orders local staff out of US news outlets in Beijing

China had days earlier expelled more than a dozen American journalists working for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The authorities in Beijing have forced at least seven Chinese nationals to stop working for American news outlets there, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the latest development in an ongoing dispute between the United States and China over media access.

Members of the New York Times, Voice of America and two other outlets were dismissed from their jobs last Thursday (March 19) and Friday, the group said, identifying only the newspaper and the US Congress-funded broadcaster.

China had days earlier expelled more than a dozen American journalists working for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post in response to a cap being placed on how many Chinese journalists can be in the US.

The tit-for-tat exemplifies how fraught US-China ties have become despite the signing of a phase one trade deal in January and calls for more global cooperation to contain the coronavirus. In addition to media, the countries have also feuded over the use of "Chinese virus" by US officials to describe the outbreak and an assertion by a Chinese official that the US military had spread the virus.

Foreign news outlets in China are barred from directly employing Chinese nationals. They are instead employed through the Beijing Personnel Service Corporation for Diplomatic Missions, which is affiliated with the foreign ministry. It was this agency that dismissed members of US media in the past few days, the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.

When asked last Thursday at the Chinese foreign ministry's daily press briefing if the local employees of US outlets had been told their work credentials were being revoked, spokesman Geng Shuang said relevant authorities manage the employees of foreign media in accordance with laws and regulations.

China's foreign ministry last week also ordered the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Voice of America and Time magazine to submit written declarations about their staff, operations, finances and real estate in China.

That was in retaliation for the US earlier ordering five Chinese state-owned media to be classified as "foreign missions". In response to a request for comment, a spokesman for Voice of America confirmed the Committee to Protect Journalists' statement while declining further comment.

A spokesman for the Washington Post referred to an earlier statement by executive editor Martin Baron condemning the expulsion of reporters. Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal, in a statement provided by a spokesman, said the outlet opposed the expulsion and intimidation of journalists.

A spokesman for the Wall Street Journal declined to comment while the New York Times didn't immediately respond to queries. A spokesman for Bloomberg, which has news bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai, declined to comment.

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