The US-China mudslinging and tit-for-tat blame game over the COVID-19 crisis just got a lot nastier, taking the information war in a new direction, impacting journalists working on the ground.
The Trump administration has slapped new visa restrictions on Chinese journalists working in the United States in retaliation for similar actions taken against American outlets.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Friday a new rule requiring all Chinese journalists under non-American news companies to be given only 90-day work visas, as opposed to the previous open-ended visas commonly handed out.
Specifically officials cited that the drastic limitation is necessary to counterbalance the “suppression of independent journalism” in China. This after Beijing starting in March moved to expel reporters in what Chinese officials at the time called an “entirely necessary and reciprocal” measure that belong to The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
The DHS had condemned that prior provocative move as “an escalation of hostile measures targeting a free press within its borders.” And in this latest announced severe visa restriction it described:
“Based on the treatment by the [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] of foreign journalists, including U.S. citizens, DHS has determined that the PRC is not treating journalists in a manner that admitting ... visa holders for the duration of status is sufficiently reciprocal to the treatment accorded by the PRC to U.S. journalists or in alignment with U.S. foreign policy,” the DHS said in its announcement.
All of this will certainly heightened what's developed into a full-scale information war over the coronavirus pandemic.
Western correspondents in China fear this race to the bottom will ultimately end their ability to report from the Communist country:
This will further hurt US reporters in China. Trump administration talks of seeking reciprocity re. press visa rules for reporters. But this is a race to the bottom with an authoritarian state that uses short visas to punish and coerce. A democracy can’t/shouldn’t win that race1 https://t.co/4jX1UJVvWm— David Rennie 任大伟 (@DSORennie) May 8, 2020
While the White House has spotlighted the Wuhan Virology Lab for investigation, as well as other labs conducting high risk research and experiments involving SARS-like dangerous strains of viruses, China's Foreign Ministry officials have on multiple occasions suggested the US Army was responsible for unleashing the deadly disease.
It must be noted too that just two weeks prior to China expelling a host of US journalists for major newspapers, the State Department cut the visas short for some 60 state-funded Chinese media journalists.
No doubt, China will retaliate. And given it's not a democracy, it's likely to hit back even harder, it's what's increasingly looking like a race to the bottom. This could ultimately result in zero American reporters legally in China at all.