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Stack of English Language Newspapers
Stack of English Language Newspapers

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced  that it is expelling a number of Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and New York Times journalists from the PRC.  

In its broad contours, the move was expected and, from the Chinese Communist Party’s viewpoint, proportionate. But the Chinese position is either blinkered or willfully ignorant in its refusal to acknowledge that Xi Jinping himself, in declaring that 中国媒姓都性党 (“Chinese media are all surnamed ‘Party’”), has admitted that Chinese journalists are not journalists in the same sense as those who work for free commercial media organs outside of China. The work of Chinese media is directed by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China which, until recently, was known as the Ministry of Propaganda. Chinese media’s job is to “tell China’s story to the world” in ways that support the CCP’s master narrative.

This does not mean that the men and women who work for Chinese Party media are incapable of performing as journalists. Many are first-rate reporters and analysts, but they can show their mettle only when covering issues not deemed sensitive by the Party. Those who operate outside of Party strictures risk severe punishment. Chen Qiushi, who posted video blogs from Wuhan during the height of its coronavirus crisis, was “quarantined” and hasn’t been heard from in over a month.

China’s decision to kick American journalists out of the PRC is the latest evidence of a broader trend. China and the United States—China and much of the free, developed world—have begun decoupling not only their integrated supply chains and financial systems, but their integrated information and knowledge systems as well. Our media, higher educational institutions, think tanks, and creative classes are becoming estranged from each other.

What does such alienation portend? It’s an imperfect analogy, but think of how Fox News and MSNBC depict disparate realities for separate audiences and the costs those disconnects have for the United States. We don’t have to imagine how this might play out on a global scale; it’s happening now. Chinese and American leaders are wasting time and energy on a futile, infantile coronavirus blame game—arguing over where the pathogen originated and what to call it—rather than marshalling their resources and expertise to find common solutions to the crisis.  We can expect more of the same in relation to other transnational issues—combatting climate change, regulating emergent technologies, arms control. Neither nation seems to have the will or wisdom to ask about the costs of their snowballing mutual hostility.     

About the Author

Robert Daly image

Robert Daly

Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

Robert Daly, the Director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, has compiled an unusually diverse portfolio of high-level work: He has served as a U.S. diplomat in Beijing; as an interpreter for Chinese and U.S. leaders, including President Carter and Secretary of State Kissinger; as head of China programs at Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and the University of Maryland; and as a producer of Chinese-language versions of Sesame Street. Recognized East and West as a leading authority on Sino-U.S. relations, he has testified before Congress, lectured widely in both countries, and regularly offers analysis for top media outlets.

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Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The mission of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States is to ensure that informed engagement remains the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations.  Read more