Beijing has complained to the US following reports that Washington has ordered two Chinese state-run media agencies to register as foreign agents.
The US Department of Justice has reportedly ordered China’s largest state-run media outlets, Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network (CGTN), formerly known as CCTV, to register under a law that would treat them as lobbyists working for a foreign entity.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that Beijing had “contacted and communicated” with the US regarding the alleged order, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara) requires anyone acting on behalf of a foreign government to register with the US Department of Justice and file public reports. If registered as foreign agents, Xinhua and CGTN would have to disclose their budgets and expenditures as well as include disclaimers identifying the outlets as foreign agents on all broadcasts.
“Countries should perceive media’s role in promoting international exchange and cooperation in an open and inclusive spirit,” Geng said at a news briefing. “They need to facilitate rather than obstruct media’s normal work, still less politicising their role.”
The news comes as relations between the US and China have hit a low over an escalating trade war. Geng’s comments also struck some as ironic, given China’s often restrictive media environment.
Last month, the US embassy in Beijing said it was “deeply concerned” when a US journalist for Buzzfeed News, known for her reporting on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, was denied a visa to continue working in China. Other foreign journalists have also been effectively barred.
Last year, Russia’s state-run RT Television was ordered to register under Fara after a US intelligence report said RT and the website Sputnik news were part of a misinformation campaign during the 2016 US presidential election.
Chinese media operating in the US have not been accused of interference, but critics cite expanding efforts to influence public opinion through Chinese and English-language news from Chinese state outlets.
Paid inserts of the government-run China Daily have appeared in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. CGTN has claimed it reaches 30 million US households a year. In 2016, Xinhua paid for a mega screen in New York’s Times Square that played a video promoting “China’s historical role and standing in the South China Sea” on loop.
In January, a group of US senators including Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy wrote to US asking the Department of Justice to assess whether state-controlled Chinese media should be registered under Fara.
They also asked the department to assess whether the dissemination of Chinese state media, including the inserts from the China Daily and the use of social media, complied with the law. Both Xinhua and CGTN have Facebook pages.
Citing a report last year from the National Endowment for Democracy, the senators said China was exploiting “glaring asymmetry” by raising barriers to external political and cultural influence at home while simultaneously taking advantage of the openness of democratic systems abroad.”
The US Department of Justice has been contacted for comment.