March 2 (UPI) -- Two weeks after the United States named five China-controlled news organizations as foreign missions, the Trump administration on Monday announced new restrictions on the number of Chinese nationals who those companies may employ.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the measure in a statement, clarifying it is not based on any content they produce but with the goal of creating reciprocity as China has for years "imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China."
"As we have done in other areas of the U.S.-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field," he said. "It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to U.S. and other foreign press in China."
On Feb. 18, the State Department designated Xinhua News Agency, the China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily and the People's Daily as foreign missions, meaning they operate as an arm of the People's Republic of China. Under the designation, they are required to inform the Office of Foreign Missions within the State Department who they employ, where they live and seek approval to buy or lease real estate.
The organizations currently employ a collective 160 Chinese nationals but the personnel cap will force them to cull that workforce to 100 by March 16 but they must inform the Trump administration of who will be cut by Friday, State Department officials told reporters in Washington under rules of anonymity.
"We note that even after this cap is implemented, these five PRC state media groups, which are explicit propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party, these five alone will continue to employ more Chinese personnel here in the U.S. than there are foreign reporters at all U.S. media outlets in China," a senior state department official said. "And, of course, unlike U.S.-based media organizations, these PRC state entities are not, in fact, independent news organizations. As I said, they are explicit propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party."
The official said the United States issued 425 media visas to Chinese nationals last year compared to the roughly 100 foreign journalists working in the Asian nation.
By company, China Radio International will be allowed two employees, China Daily nine, China Global 30 and Xinhua 59, the officials said, adding no restrictions would be placed at this time on Hai Tian, which distributes the People's Daily.
The officials said what happens to the visas of those who are trimmed will be handled on an individual basis and it is up to the companies to decide who will continue to work in the United States.
"The caps aren't placed on individuals -- They're only on the entities," a second State Department official said. "So, it will be up to Xinuha to determine who they want to work or not. And, in terms of how long they'll be there, that will be up to them. Their status in the country isn't determined by the Department of State."
The restrictions do not, however, limit the number of American citizens they may hire, the official said.
A day after the State Department designated the five media organizations as foreign missions, China expelled three American journalists, stating it was in retaliation to a piece their organization had written.
The first State Department official said if China chooses to retaliate against this move, "all options would be on the table" for them to respond.
"I can't tell you what in particular we would do, but we would sit down, review the circumstances and then consider all our options," the official said.