Under the reciprocal agreement, U.S. and Chinese authorities consented to extend the validity of visiting journalists’ work visas from the current three months to one year. The two countries also pledged to resume the issuance of new work visas to journalists from one another’s country.
The new measures were confirmed by a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State on November 16, who told CNN, “we welcome this progress but see it simply as initial steps”. At a press conference on November 17, Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the agreement as a hard-earned result and in line with the interests of both nations.
However, neither the U.S. nor Chinese government have specified when the new measures will take force, and it remains unclear if foreign journalists who have been expelled by the Beijing authorities will be allowed to return to China under the agreement.
Retaliatory restrictions on press freedoms between the two countries started in March 2020, when the U.S. government designated Chinese state media organisations operating in the U.S. as “foreign missions” and capped the number of Chinese journalists working with those outlets.
In response, the Chinese government expelled at least 18 foreign correspondents from U.S.-headquartered media organisations operating in China in the first half of 2020, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s estimate.
The IFJ said, “The IFJ welcomes the decision by both the U.S. and Chinese governments to ease visa restrictions and urges the two sides to deliver their agreement as soon as possible to ensure that their journalists can work in each other’s country. The IFJ reiterates its opposition to any government using journalists and the visa process as tools to target or retaliate against one another.”