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China threatens retaliation over new U.S. visa restrictions for Chinese reporters

The Chinese foreign ministry has rejected new U.S. rules for Chinese journalists, introduced last week, as an attempt to suppress Beijing-backed media organizations, demanding that Washington, D.C. walk back the new restrictions or face countermeasures.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian hit out at the new measures during a daily briefing with reporters on Monday.

On Friday, the U.S. announced it would only issue 90-day visas for Chinese reporters with no option of extension.

The new rules come into force on Monday.

Previously, visas were often open-ended and did not require extension, Reuters noted. Reporters would only have to apply to extend the visa if they moved to a different company or type of reporting. The new rules will not apply to reporters carrying passports issued by the semi-autonomous Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Zhao said Monday that the new U.S. restrictions were an escalation of suppression against Chinese media, Reuters reported. He added that Washington should immediately reverse the decision or Beijing will have to take countermeasures.

The new rule is the latest move in a recent U.S.-Chinese spat over journalistic freedoms, occurring while the two nations fight a PR war over the coronavirus pandemic.

The dispute began in February, when the U.S. said it would start treating five Chinese state-run news organizations as “foreign missions.”

The next day, the Chinese government retaliated by expelling three Wall Street Journal correspondents—two Americans and an Australian—over an opinion column dismissed by Beijing as racist.

In March, the State Department then said that the five Chinese media outlets now treated as “foreign missions” would have to reduce their total number of staff from 160 to 100. Beijing responded by effectively expelling U.S. journalists working at three American newspapers in China.

Explaining the new visa rules, the Department of Homeland Security said Friday the measures were in response to Beijing’s “suppression of independent journalism.”

An anonymous senior DHS official told Reuters that the move would also “create greater national security protections” by reducing the number of Chinese journalists operating in the U.S.

U.S.-China relations have sunk to a historic low amid the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 strain originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has now spread worldwide, infecting more than 4.1 million people and killing more than 282,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump’s administration has accused China of failing to adequately warn the international community of the coronavirus threat, while underreporting its number of infections and deaths.

The president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also claimed that the virus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan—though neither has provided evidence—rather than originating at a wildlife market as most experts have thus far suggested.

Beijing has rejected international criticism of its response as racist politicking. The government has reserved its most cutting attacks for the Trump administration, which it says is seeking to shift blame to China to divert attention from its own bungling of the pandemic and motivate his base ahead of the November presidential election.

The U.S. has now become the global epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 1.3 million reported infections and almost 80,000 deaths.

Original: NEWSWEEK