China and the US have agreed to ease restrictions on each other’s journalists amid a slight relaxation of tensions between the two sides.
The official China Daily newspaper said yesterday that the agreement was reached ahead of Tuesday’s virtual summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden.
The agreement represents a degree of progress on an issue that has long aggravated relations, but details remain to be ironed out.
Covid travel restrictions and long-standing obstacles faced by foreign media within China are also factors standing in the way of a major breakthrough in media relations.
Under the agreement, the US will issue one-year multiple-entry visas to Chinese journalists and will immediately initiate a process to address “duration of status” issues, China Daily said.
China will reciprocate by granting equal treatment to US journalists once the US policies take effect, and both sides will issue media visas for new applicants “based on relevant laws and regulations”, the report said.
Neither China’s foreign ministry nor the US State Department mentioned press conditions in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where both local and international media have come under increasing pressure. The Economist said last week that Hong Kong refused a visa renewal for its correspondent Sue-Lin Wong. Authorities have not explained the rejection.
Limits on journalists have fuelled tensions between the two countries for more than a year after the US cut 20 visas issued to Chinese state media journalists and required those remaining to register as foreign agents, among other changes.
China responded by expelling journalists working for US outlets and severely restricting conditions for those continuing to work in the country.
The new agreement “was the result of more than a year of difficult negotiations over the treatment of media outlets in both countries”, China Daily said.
“It is hoped that more good news is ahead for the two countries’ media outlets through further China-US cooperation,” the newspaper added.
Asked about Wong’s case, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the issuing of visas is at the “autonomy and the discretion of any government”.
She added that the authorities do not comment on individual cases, but will continue to facilitate the operation of overseas media based in Hong Kong “in a legitimate manner” according to the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.
Wong is the latest in a string of journalists in Hong Kong to be denied visas.
In 2018, Hong Kong authorities refused to renew the work visa of Financial Times senior editor Victor Mallet after he chaired a lunchtime talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club with the leader of a now-banned pro-Hong Kong independence party.
Authorities did not say why Mallet’s application was rejected.
Last year, Hong Kong did not renew a work visa for Chris Buckley, a New York Times reporter who had been working in Hong Kong after being expelled from China, as well as for Irish journalist Aaron McNicholas, who was then an incoming editor for the independent media outlet Hong Kong Free Press.