June 22 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Monday designated four more major Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign missions for being propaganda mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party, a move that will likely worsen already strained relations between Washington and Beijing and attract retaliatory measures.
China Central Television, China News Service, the People's Daily and the Global Times were all designated Monday as foreign missions as they are "substantially owned or effectively controlled" by the Chinese government, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
The companies will have to report the names of their staff and their real estate holdings to the Office of Foreign Missions within the State Department, treating the companies as arms of the Chinese government in the United States like foreign embassies or consulates.
"The decision to designate these entities is not based on any content produced by these entities, nor does it place any restrictions on what the designated entities may publish in the United States," she said. "It simply recognizes them for what they are."
The United States designated five Chinese state-run news organizations in mid-February to promote reciprocity with China as it accuses the Asian nation of restraining freedom of the press within its borders. In early March, it then capped the number of Chinese nationals who could be collectively employed in the United States at those companies to 100 from 160.
China responded by expelling American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post from its borders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday he directed the designations to "ensure greater transparency of CCP-run operations in the United States."
The move comes amid strained relations between the two countries as the United States has demanded greater transparency from China over its handling of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus and followed through on legislative moves to punish it over human rights abuses committed against the Hong Kong protesters and its Muslim-minority Uyghur population -- accusations China vehemently rejects.
China has yet to respond to the measures but it was expected to chastise the United States over them and either threaten or pursue retaliatory measures.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told reporters Monday the United States hopes the move will edge China toward realizing its claim of being open, accessible and supportive of journalism, but "I'm not going to hold my breath."
Concerning retaliatory actions, Stilwell said how China responds is up to them but he won't all these companies to operate within the United States unchecked.
"I can't hold up actions to protect ourselves and the American people from their sort of intrusive propaganda machine that comes into our country -- that we invited in -- out of concern that they are somehow going to take unfortunate and unrelated actions inside the PRC," he said, referring to the country by the initials of its official name, the People's Republic of China.
He said other Chinese media is allowed to operate in the United States without this designation, but that these nine collective entities are not media organizations and that their employees "are doing more than just propaganda."
"It's about understanding what's going on inside our own country," he said. "We're a free nation."
Asked if a cap will be put in place as was done last time, Stilwell responded that that was unclear. Now that the companies will be required to produce a list of their employees, they will have a better understanding of who they are.
"As I said before, this is housekeeping," he said. "We're just cleaning up some broken glass and stuff that we hadn't really paid a lot of attention to in the past."