The United States and China announced, on Tuesday, an agreement to ease restrictions imposed on foreign journalists working in the two countries, to calm a diplomatic standoff that led to the expulsion of some American correspondents from China during the past year of the Trump administration.
The deal was first reported by the China Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Chinese government, and was later confirmed by a statement from the foreign ministry.
Under the agreement, announced just a day after President Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping, three news organizations – The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times – will be allowed to return journalists to China, although that. It is not yet clear whether the specific reporters who were fired last year will be allowed to return to work there.
“We are pleased that their correspondents are able to return to the People’s Republic of China to continue their important work,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “We welcome this progress, but we see it as only initial steps.”
The United States, which has had limited visas for Chinese journalists for 90 days, will offer one-year visas to foreign reporters, renewable annually. The two countries agreed to facilitate the entry and exit of journalists from the two countries without fear of losing the ability to return to work.
Journalists in both countries will have to meet the standard eligibility requirements for visas under the laws of both countries.
US officials described the deal as the result of months of negotiations aimed at resolving some of the rising tensions between the two superpowers as they maneuver for economic power and public relations supremacy around the world.
“We will continue to work to expand access and improve conditions for US and other foreign media, and we will continue to advocate media freedom as a reflection of our democratic values,” the statement from the State Department said.
But it is unclear whether the deal – which White House aides said was not discussed when Biden and Mr. Xi met in a virtual summit on Monday – fully reflects the expulsion measures taken by China against the three newspapers last March, such as the coronavirus. The epidemic had only just begun to spread outside that country.
The dispute is over whether veteran journalists for the three US news organizations who were fired last year will be able to return to their previous rhythms, allowing newspapers to draw on their expertise and sources as they continue to document the actions of the Chinese government, business and society.
“We are encouraged by the stated direction of these negotiations and continue to believe that independent and accurate reporting from within China serves our readers and serves China itself,” Almar Latour, the magazine’s publisher, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Times had no immediate comment on reports of the new deal with regard to journalists. Representatives for The Post did not respond to a request for comment.
Orville Schell, director of the Center for US-China Relations at the Asia Society, said the agreement reflects the serious effort diplomats in both countries are making to move toward a more viable relationship.
“They were trying to find some areas where they could show some tangible progress,” said Mr. Shell, former dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. “They decided that was a good thing.”
For years, China has sought to impose restrictions on American journalists who have aggressively covered government activities. Chinese officials have shortened visas for journalists working for US news agencies in an effort to discourage reporters from writing critically about the country for fear of being forced out.
But tensions over the journalists’ issue escalated in early 2020, as former President Donald J. Trump ramped up his rhetoric about the Chinese origin of the coronavirus and limited the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work in the United States for the Chinese state. Media organizations widely believed to be propaganda outlets.
Two weeks later, China expelled journalists working for the three US newspapers. Trump’s administration responded in early May, restricting Chinese journalists to 90-day visas to work in the United States. Previously, Chinese journalists were granted one-year visas that would allow them to leave the United States and return for the duration of their stay.
The standoff over journalists was part of a deteriorating relationship between the United States and China during the Trump administration, which clashed with Beijing over tariffs and other economic issues, as well as Mr. Trump’s repeated condemnations of the Chinese government over the COVID-19 outbreak.
After initially saying that China “worked hard to contain the coronavirus”, Mr. Trump later frequently used the phrase “China virus” to describe its origins.
Biden has also taken a hard line with China, but has sought to back off statements among officials. US officials said the virtual summit between the two leaders on Monday is aimed in part at ensuring that misunderstandings and sharp rhetoric do not lead to direct conflict with China.
Mr. Shell, who helped facilitate talks between State Department officials and senior journalists several months ago to discuss the issue, said Mr. Xi’s willingness to accept the new arrangement may indicate that he understands the importance of the news media, even in a country like China.
“They realize that in order to have any kind of economic relationship, you need some kind of journalistic exchange,” he said, adding that such an arrangement between the two countries had been seen before.
“During the Cold War, we had such an understanding with Russia,” Mr. Schell said. “There was an agreement that the Russians got the same number here and we got the same number there.”