US and China agree to ease restrictions on journalists’ visas after Biden-Xi meeting

The agreement addresses a source of controversy in strained bilateral relations following a lengthy virtual meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on Monday.

Under the agreement, the two governments will increase the validity of journalist visas to one year from the current three months. Authorities will also make such visas eligible for multiple entries, allowing journalists to travel internationally.

The People’s Republic of China has pledged to allow US journalists already in the country “to leave and return freely, which they were previously unable to do,” a US State Department official said Tuesday. “We plan to facilitate similar treatment.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would lift its visa restrictions once the United States did.

“We hope that the United States will fulfill its commitment and implement the relevant measures and policies as soon as possible,” Zhao said at a press conference in Beijing. “This hard-won result benefits the media on both sides and should be appreciated.”

The two sides have also pledged to resume issuing new visas for journalists, a process that was largely halted after the Chinese government expelled numerous American journalists in early 2020. Beijing insisted it was forced to take retaliation after former President Trump’s administration designated US branches of China’s state media. outlets as “foreign missions”, and limited the number of Chinese journalists working for those outlets in the United States.

American news organizations affected by the Chinese expulsions included the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

“We have been in close consultation with affected media facing staff shortages, and we are pleased that their correspondents are able to return to the People’s Republic of China to continue their important work,” the US State Department official said. It is unclear whether the expelled journalists will be allowed to return or whether a new group of journalists will be allowed into China.

“We welcome this progress, but we see it simply as initial steps,” the US official added. “We will continue to work to expand access and improve conditions for US and foreign media, and we will continue to advocate for media freedom as a reflection of our democratic values.”

AG Sulzberger, the editor of The New York Times, said in a statement Wednesday that the company welcomes “any move by the Chinese and US governments to allow journalists to do the important work of informing the public.”

“We believe that both countries will benefit from freer access to news and information about the other,” he said. “And we hope that these initial steps will be followed by further action to ensure that independent news organizations can provide robust and free coverage from within China.”

Almar Latour, editor of The Wall Street Journal and CEO of Dow Jones & Co, said they are “encouraged by the informed direction of these negotiations and continue to believe that independent and accurate reporting from China serves our readers and China itself.” . “

The Washington Post did not respond to a request for comment.

China’s state media first reported on the visa agreement for journalists. It was a surprise, as a senior official in the Biden administration told reporters after the leaders’ meeting that this topic did not come up during their conversation.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing on Wednesday described the deal as a result of US officials pressuring their Chinese counterparts on media access and visa issues “through working channels in recent months.” .

– CNN’s Beijing office contributed to this report.

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