China to Give U.S. Journalists 1-Year Work Visas After Sides Reach New Agreement

The U.S. and China have reached agreements to ease restrictions on journalists from both countries.

The agreement came before the virtual summit held by the countries, according to the China Daily newspaper. Under the terms of the deal, China will give American journalists one-year multiple-entry work visas. Likewise, the U.S. will provide Chinese journalists with the same type of visa. Both nations will initiate processes to address "duration of status" issues as they appear.

"We hope that the U.S. will keep its promise to put the relevant measures and policies in place as soon as possible and work with China to create favorable conditions for both (nations') media to continue to work and live in each other's countries," said China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian to reporters at a daily briefing.

The U.S. State Department also stated on the agreement to the Associated Press. In it, they said that the other country is committed to issuing visas to U.S. reporters "provided they are eligible under all applicable laws and regulations." The State Department also said they "will also continue issuing visas to (Chinese) journalists who are otherwise eligible for the visa under U.S. law."

The countries' restrictions towards journalists have partially fueled tensions between China and the U.S. over the years. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. "cut 20 visas issued to Chinese state media journalists" in 2020, resulting in China expelling journalists working at outlets based in the U.S. However, China Daily reported that the new agreement worked to reverse this decision.

"It is hoped that more good news is ahead for the two countries' media outlets through further China-U.S. cooperation," the newspaper added.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

China 100th Anniversary Journalists
Under the terms of the deal, China will give American journalists one-year multiple-entry work visas. Likewise, the U.S. will provide Chinese journalists with the same type of visa. Above, journalists wear ponchos during a brief rain shower at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party on July 1, 2021, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The agreement represents a degree of progress on an issue that has long aggravated relations, but details remain to be ironed out. COVID-19 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.

Zhao gave no information on a timeline for implementation.

China also committed to increase the length for which U.S. journalist visas are valid from the current 90 days to one year.

"On a reciprocal basis, we are committing to increase validity of U.S. visas issued to PRC journalists to one year as well," the State Department statement said, referring to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Not mentioned in either statement were 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.

The State Department said it has "remained in close consultation with the affected outlets, as well as other outlets facing personnel shortages due to PRC government policy decisions, and we are gratified their correspondents will be able to return to the PRC to continue their important work. We welcome this progress but see it simply as initial steps."

The State Department also said it would continue to work toward expanded access and better conditions for U.S. and foreign media in China, where they face considerable obstacles ranging from questioning by police, harassment preventing them from doing their work, personal threats and lawsuits brought by people they interview.

"We will continue to advocate for media freedom as a reflection of our democratic values," the State Department told the AP.

When 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." Lam 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.

The city's Foreign Correspondents' Club said it was "deeply concerned" over the denial of Wong's employment visa.

"We again call on the government to provide concrete assurances that applications for employment visas and visa extensions will be handled in a timely manner with clearly-stated requirements and procedures, and that the visa process for journalists will not be politicized or weaponized," the club said in a statement last week.

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.

In 2020, 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 Mc Nicholas, who was then an incoming editor for the independent media outlet Hong Kong Free Press.

Journalist Departure
China and the U.S. have agreed to ease restrictions on each other's media workers amid a slight easing of tensions between the two sides. The announcement in the official China Daily newspaper on November 17, 2021, said the agreement was reached ahead of Tuesday's virtual summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden. Above, Wall Street Journal reporters, from right, Stephanie Yang, Julie Wernau, and Stu Woo, embrace colleagues before their departure at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on March 28, 2020. AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File