The United States administration has announced that it will be treating five Chinese government-backed media entities operating in the country as foreign embassies. The rules mandate that these outlets register their American properties as well as employees with the U.S. State Department.
Regulating Chinese media
“The new determination is being applied to the Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corp., and Hai Tian Development USA, Inc. China Daily is an English-language newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party. Hai Tian Development USA distributes the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the party’s Central Committee,” according to Reuters.
The decision is said to have been implemented since China has been aggressively pushing pro-Beijing propaganda through the outlets. After Xi Jinping came into power, state control over content has only become stronger. The five media entities will now have to disclose information about how they hire and fire employees working at the U.S. branches. Before buying or leasing any property in the United States, approval from the administration has to be taken in advance. The disclosure is expected to help the State Department understand the workings of Chinese media outlets.
As to whether the new rules will trigger retaliation from Beijing, one official pointed out that foreign outlets are already under severe restrictions in the Asian nation. In fact, even with the new rules, the five Chinese entities have more press freedom in the U.S. than American media has in China. At an international security conference in Munich, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarked: “The United States has woken up the world to China’s unfair trading practices and the Chinese Communist Party’s newly aggressive turn, whether on the military, diplomatic, or economic front.” (CNN)
The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about the U.S. government’s decision, arguing that the administration should not determine whether a media outlet is a propaganda vehicle or not. Such a line of thinking could end up with increased government control over the press. However, one has to keep in mind that the Trump administration has, in no way, implemented any censorship on the five Chinese media houses. As such, censorship concerns over the U.S. government’s actions are seriously misguided.
Since the Chinese government often likes to blame “foreign powers” for any trouble brewing in its country, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that state media has been promoting a U.S. coronavirus conspiracy theory. The claim goes that the 16,000 or so Americans who recently died of influenza during the flu season had actually contracted the coronavirus and that the U.S. government hid this fact by misreporting their cause of death.
Inevitably, pro-Beijing social media users immediately lapped up on the story and have been spinning out even wilder conspiracies. “Perhaps the U.S. delegates brought the coronavirus to Wuhan, and some mutation occurred to the virus, making it more deadly and contagious, and causing a widespread outbreak this year,” one Chinese netizen said on social media (CCN).
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 29 million people have contracted the flu illness this season, leading to 280,000 hospitalizations. To think that these are all coronavirus infections that the U.S. government succeeded in “misreporting” would be clearly ridiculous. Earlier, Russian media circulated a conspiracy theory blaming the U.S. for intentionally creating the coronavirus outbreak as a way of economic warfare against China.