China orders four US media outlets to disclose finances, staff

China ordered four US news outlets to disclose details of their staff and financial operations in the country within seven days. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 01 July 2020

China orders four US media outlets to disclose finances, staff

  • Retaliation for Washington’s crackdown on four Chinese state media outlets
  • US restrictions on Chinese media ‘exposed the hypocrisy of the so-called press freedom touted by the US’

BEIJING: China on Wednesday ordered four US news outlets to disclose details of their staff and financial operations in the country within seven days, as a media row escalates between Washington and Beijing.
The Associated Press, United Press International, CBS and NPR must report the information — as well as details of any real estate they hold in China — in retaliation for Washington’s crackdown on four Chinese state media outlets, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
China’s actions are “entirely necessary countermeasures against the United States’ unreasonable oppression of Chinese media organizations in the US,” Zhao said at a regular press briefing.
The US State Department on June 22 reclassified four Chinese state media outlets as foreign missions in the United States, adding to five others designated in February.
All nine outlets “are effectively controlled by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in June.
After the first group of outlets were ordered to cut their Chinese staff working in the United States, Beijing hit back by expelling more than a dozen US nationals working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Beijing also ordered the papers, as well as Voice of America and Time magazine, to declare in writing their staff, finances, operations and real estate in China.
Zhao on Wednesday said the US restrictions on Chinese media “exposed the hypocrisy of the so-called press freedom touted by the US.”
China urges the US to “correct its mistakes and stop the political suppression and unreasonable restrictions on Chinese media,” Zhao said.
All nine Chinese state-run news organizations are required to report details of their US-based staff and real estate transactions to the State Department. Their news reporting will not be restricted, US officials said in June.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have worsened as the two sides trade barbs over blame for the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights violations.
The United States has led a global backlash against a national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing Tuesday, cutting off defense exports and revoking the financial hub’s special trade status.
US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was growing “more and more angry at China” over the pandemic, which he blames on Chinese inaction and lack of transparency.
Meanwhile, China has accused the Trump administration of politicizing the pandemic to deflect from its own handling of the crisis.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi in Hawaii last month, with little apparent effect on soaring bilateral tensions.


US judge blocks Commerce Department order to remove WeChat from app stores

Updated 21 September 2020

US judge blocks Commerce Department order to remove WeChat from app stores

  • WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia says

WASHINGTON: A US judge on Sunday blocked the Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”

On Friday, the Commerce Department had issued a order citing national security grounds to block the app from US app stores owned by Tencent Holding’s and the Justice Department had urged Beeler not to block the order.

Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the site’s usability for current US users. The US Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

The Justice Department said blocking the order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.” But Beeler said “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest.”

She added “The regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest.”

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.

The WeChat Users Alliance that had sued praised the ruling “as an important and hard-fought victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the US.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer for the users, said “the United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”