US, China agree to ease restrictions on journalists ‘eligible under all applicable laws, regulations’

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden walk down the red carpet on the tarmac during an arrival ceremony in Andrews Air Force Base

In what comes as a slight relaxation between the United States of America and China, the two sides have agreed to ease restrictions on each other’s media workers. The agreement was reached ahead of Tuesday’s virtual summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, Chinese media reported. 

According to the report, the US will issue one-year multiple-entry visas to Chinese media workers and will immediately initiate a process to address ‘duration of status’ issues. Meanwhile, China will reciprocate by granting equal treatment to US journalists, once the US policies take effect. 

Thereafter, both sides will issue media visas for new applicants “based on relevant laws and regulations,” the report said.

In a statement, the State Department on Tuesday said China had committed to issuing visas for a group of US reporters “provided they are eligible under all applicable laws and regulations.”

“We will also continue issuing visas to (Chinese) journalists who are otherwise eligible for the visa under U.S. law,” the statement said.

China is also committed to increasing the length for which US media visas are valid from the current 90 days to one year.

“On a reciprocal basis, we are committing to increase the validity of US visas issued to PRC journalists to one year as well,” the State Department statement said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Not mentioned in either statement were press conditions in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where both local and international media have come under increasing pressure. The Economist said last week that Hong Kong refused a visa renewal for its correspondent Sue-Lin Wong. Authorities have not explained the rejection.

Limits on media workers had fueled tensions between the two countries for more than a year after the US cut 20 visas issued to Chinese state media workers and required those remaining to register as foreign agents, among other changes.

China responded by expelling journalists working for U.S. outlets and severely restricting conditions for those continuing to work in the country.

The new agreement “was the result of more than a year of difficult negotiations over the treatment of media outlets in both countries,” China Daily said.

“It is hoped that more good news is ahead for the two countries’ media outlets through further China-US cooperation,” the paper added.

The State Department said it has “remained in close consultation with the affected outlets, as well as other outlets facing personnel shortages due to PRC government policy decisions, and we are gratified their correspondents will be able to return to the PRC to continue their important work. We welcome this progress but see it simply as initial steps.”

The State Department also said it would continue to work toward expanded access and better conditions for U.S. and foreign media in China, where they face considerable obstacles ranging from questioning by police, harassment preventing them from doing their work, personal threats and lawsuits brought by people they interview.

“We will continue to advocate for media freedom as a reflection of our democratic values,” the State Department told the AP.

Asked about Wong’s case, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the issuing of visas is at the “autonomy and the discretion of any government.” Lam added that the authorities do not comment on individual cases but will continue to facilitate the operation of overseas media based in Hong Kong “in a legitimate manner” according to the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.

The city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club said it was “deeply concerned” over the denial of Wong’s employment visa.

“We again call on the government to provide concrete assurances that applications for employment visas and visa extensions will be handled in a timely manner with clearly-stated requirements and procedures, and that the visa process for journalists will not be politicized or weaponized,” the club said in a statement last week.

Wong is the latest in a string of journalists in Hong Kong to be denied a visa.

In 2018, Hong Kong authorities refused to renew the work visa of Financial Times’ senior editor Victor Mallet after he chaired a lunchtime talk at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club with the leader of a now-banned pro-Hong Kong independence party. Authorities did not say why Mallet’s application was rejected.

In 2020, Hong Kong also did not renew a work visa for Chris Buckley, a New York Times reporter who had been working in Hong Kong after being expelled from China, as well as for Irish journalist Aaron Mc Nicholas, who was then an incoming editor for the independent media outlet Hong Kong Free Press.

(With inputs from AP)

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