Briefing With Senior State Department Officials on China’s Expulsion of U.S. Journalists

SPECIAL BRIEFING
OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON
VIA TELECONFERENCE
MARCH 18, 2020

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Our objectives are the same. We want to develop a productive relationship with the PRC. It’s going to take a little bit of a harder stance, we think, to get them to buy into that. The second part is our strategy hasn’t really changed either. Our strategy’s been the same for probably 70 years in the region, and that is to continue fostering liberal democratic processes as well as supporting free, fair, and open global and regional trade (inaudible). If you’ve read anything about what the Chinese objectives are, it is not that. They’re looking for something that more closely mirrors their model of governance if you read China Today.

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SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To accomplish that, our response has been, as you’ve seen, looking to build some reciprocity in this relationship. In terms of reciprocity, you start off in September with – we tried to – a diplomatic relationship more reciprocal. Anybody who’s lived in China, either in the media or as a diplomat, knows that you are treated far differently in the PRC than you are here as far as openness, access, and all the rest. I’ll let you judge how that went, but the message I think was received in Beijing as we simply asked their diplomats to give us five days’ notice before they met with certain (inaudible) national (inaudible).

Second part: In January we announced media reciprocity. Again, the same thing – we asked their media that are sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party acknowledge that through determining that they were foreign missions. They are still allowed to do what they do in this country, but they just had to acknowledge the fact that they weren’t the same media organizations that you all represent. They basically were there to represent the Chinese Communist Party’s perspective. And one of you from PBS gave me a good summation of that. Here’s the quote: Journalists are constrained by facts while foreign missions are constrained by their governments. So that’s the approach we’ve taken as far as media reciprocity.

The response by the Chinese to this particular initiative has been mixed and in some ways I think overly – they sort of overreacted. In this case, they’re trying to (inaudible). It’s a strategic competition, therefore we treat each other the same. Because we’re resisting in the media space and the economic space, they’re having a much more difficult time advancing their interests. In fact, there’s actually resistance not just from the U.S., though, but from many other countries who have experienced the same thing.

So we’re getting a much more shrill narrative from the PRC, and this current conversation relates to the most recent and the most flagrant by a spokesman, by their ministry of foreign affairs – Zhao Lijian tried to attribute the current global pandemic to the American military, and that is just irresponsible and unacceptable.

As you watched – I don’t know if you watch what comes out of Chinese official media, but it’s become more and more fantastic and fictional. Here’s a quote from today’s People’s Daily: The U.S. even tries to create a chilling effect by expelling a large number of journalists from other countries – that’s absolutely not true – building a wall to the external world to report and understand the U.S. That’s actually what they’re doing, and so there’s a psychological term for that. Another quote: U.S. is conducting a disguised expulsion while it is, in fact, political repression. I leave it to you to decide if that’s the case. And here’s one more quote: “China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the U.S.”

Finally, there’s going to be questions about whether – how this links to the current pandemic, global pandemic. And one, we’re concerned that the PRC is doing its best to distance itself from that. That’s why we – they accuse the U.S., that’s why they determine – they say that the origins are indeterminate. The current (inaudible) you’re seeing in the media comes from, I think, their response to a Wall Street Journal editorial with the headline “Sick Man of Asia,” a term that was used by the Chinese multiple times, most recently in a People’s Daily editorial of 2012, which led to the expulsion of journalists from The Wall Street Journal. These weren’t just Americans. (Inaudible) in there as well. And this is part of a long-term process of making it difficult for media to operate in China, whether it’s through visa restrictions – if you remember The New York Times got kicked out of China in 2012, I think, for reporting on Xi Jinping’s family and corrupt activities. Bloomberg had the same experience back then, and this has been ongoing over time. They don’t do it always through expulsions; they do it through visa manipulation, like instead limiting the time on visas, et cetera.

So to summarize, we’re just looking for reciprocal treatment. If you want to be a great power, then you should expect to play on a level playing field, and you – the media – should be allowed to operate as freely in China as you do here in the U.S. I would hope that that message resonates with all of you. [Full Text]