The US State Department announced on March 2 that it would impose a personnel cap on the number of Chinese citizens permitted to work for the US operation of five Chinese official media outlets, cutting the number of employees from 160 to 100. The 60 people must either leave by March 13 or ensure they have a visa that allows them to stay. The US is now victimizing reporters in the current China-US political struggles, which seems to be an indication of a new cold war. If the US government thinks it can suppress the Chinese government in this way, it will surely be disappointed.
The US moves have given people the impression that the US government supports racism that targets a specific group or race. The US State Department’s measures against these media outlets seem to be the response to China’s move of revoking the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal (WSJ) journalists.
Racial discrimination is one of the key obstacles the US faces in maintaining its status as a superpower. If racism is allowed to thrive, US society will face increased racial tensions and more turbulent interpersonal relationships.
The WSJ’s racist headline “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” was even criticized in the US media. On February 20, 53 reporters and editors at the WSJ asked top executives to consider changing the headline and apologizing, which has not happened. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China should not “restrict speech.” If he believes “sick man of Asia” is freedom of speech rather than racist statement, then he is barely familiar with foreign affairs.
White House’s moves have hurt the Chinese people’s self-esteem. Anyone familiar with modern Chinese history knows that the term “sick man of Asia” is a Western insult to Chinese people. The term is not only an insult to the people of China, it also denigrates Chinese-Americans and East Asians.
The US government’s extreme move against Chinese media has hurt the expectation of Chinese people who were relieved by the progress in trade ties between the two countries. There are now more voices in China asking to take a hardline toward the US.
The step China took with the Wall Street Journal reporters is a temporary restriction. Yet the US treatment of five Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions” is a statutory and systematic adjustment. Some Chinese observers had previously warned that the US could become insatiable after the phase one trade deal was signed. Now they have the proof.
Freedom of speech does not mean people can be irresponsible in the remarks they make. As China goes all out in fighting the coronavirus epidemic, the Wall Street Journal somehow feels justified in provoking racist sentiment, and the US government has backed such an attitude. It is ironic that the US continues to crown itself guardian of freedom of speech.
The author is an associate professor at School of International Relations, Beijing International Studies University, and a visiting scholar at the University of Iowa.
(In association with Global Times)