American journalists in Hong Kong could be Beijing’s next target
China could take aim at American journalists in Hong Kong, if the US doesn’t renew visas for Chinese journalists, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said.
“From what I know, given that the US side hasn’t renewed visa of Chinese journalists, Chinese side has prepared for the worst scenario that all Chinese journalists have to leave the US,” Hu said Tuesday on Twitter. “If that’s the case, Chinese side will retaliate, including targeting US journalists based in HK.”
The Global Times is a tabloid run by the People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party. Hu’s tweets have become closely watched after accurately forecasting previous moves by China’s government.
“Hong Kong is a part of China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing later Tuesday. “When China is forced to make a necessary and legitimate response, it is within the legitimate diplomatic power of the Chinese government.”
Wang said the US restrictions on Chinese journalists had “severely interfered with their normal operations in the US.”
“The cause and responsibility for the current situation lies solely with the US,” he said. “If the US continues with its wrongdoings, China will be forced to make necessary and legitimate responses and resolutely safeguard its own legitimate rights and interests.”
The US State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Such a move would be an escalation of a tit-for-tat fight that has ensnared media employees in both countries. After the US imposed visa restrictions on Chinese journalists, Beijing in February expelled more than a dozen of their American counterparts, including three Wall Street Journal reporters.
The Trump administration then ordered Chinese state-owned news outlets -- including the Xinhua News Agency -- to cut the size of their US-based staff, part of a broader response to Beijing’s restrictions on American journalists.
Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong doesn’t issue journalist visas and is supposed to maintain independent control over immigration. But the city’s ability to determine its own immigration policy is being increasingly undermined.
In 2018, Hong Kong denied a visa renewal for Victor Mallet of the Financial Times, following his hosting an event with a local independence activist at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. It also refused entry to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. Some of the American reporters kicked out of China earlier this year weren’t allowed to go to Hong Kong.
Steps to squeeze journalists in the semi-autonomous financial hub could fuel further tensions between the US and China. The world’s two biggest economies have seen relations worsen in recent months on everything from trade to Hong Kong, on which China has imposed sweeping national security legislation that’s raised fears about basic freedoms -- including of the press.
The European Union said in a statement this week that the city’s proposed year-long postponement of key Legislative Council elections previously set for Sept. 6 “would delay the renewal of its democratic mandate and call into question the exercise of the democratic rights and freedoms guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law.”
Hu said earlier that a number of Chinese journalists will see their visas expire on Aug. 6, and “none of them” have yet been renewed. Beijing is preparing for a worst-case scenario where the US forces it to withdraw all Chinese journalists, and will retaliate “fiercely” to refusals to renew their visas, Hu wrote on Weibo.