At a moment the Chinese state has continued its crackdown on American journalists and content — in the latest instance expelling three WSJ reporters for a "racist" opinion piece — the US State Department has announced it will require five state-run news agencies which operate in the US to register as "foreign missions".
This means they must register all personnel and property with the US government and will be treated as additional foreign missions as defined under the Foreign Missions Act. They'll effectively now have to comply with all rules governing foreign embassies and consulates. The outlets are Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (or CCTV), China Radio International, the parent company of China Daily newspaper, and the parent company of the The People's Daily newspaper.
"These five U.S.-based entities are not independent news organizations — they are effectively controlled by the [Chinese] government," a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday, Politico reports.
An in a separate report, another US official said, “Obviously the Chinese Communist Party has always had a pretty tight rein on media in general and state-run media in particular but that has only further tightened since Xi Jinping took over.”
Registration under the Foreign Missions Act allows US authorities to demand that the five media entities disclose a lot more information about their internal operations. As the WSJ describes, "The move is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to ferret out actions by China seen as inimical to U.S. interests — from academics and business executives stealing intellectual property to the spread of the Chinese government’s views by state-backed media and education institutions."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month told the National Governors Association in a speech that he's trying to curtail Chinese eavesdropping and data collection activities on US soil. Speaking of tighter restrictions on Chinese media organizations, he said: “This is just fairness, reciprocity, basic common sense. This is not an onerous restriction to put on China.”
Theoretically the "foreign missions" designation now means that in any diplomatic spat, the US could move to close and expel Chinese media outlets which would be akin to closing a consulate, giving Washington more leverage in any such extreme scenario. The State Department sees the outlets as part of a broad state propaganda machine:
"They are part and parcel of the People's Republic of China propaganda machine," the official said. "The fact of the matter is each and every single one of these entities does in fact work 100% for the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party," the official added. "These guys are on the organizational chart."
The People's Daily and China Daily have already been registered as foreign agents since at least 1996 and 1983, under their parent company Hai Tian Development.
All of this sets the stage for the greater likelihood of Beijing 'taking the gloves off' in its ill treatment of US and Western media operating in China, amid increasingly critical coronavirus coverage.