The US State Department on Tuesday said it will officially treat five Chinese state media outlets as government agencies controlled by Beijing.
These media organizations include China's state news agency Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio International, China Daily and a distribution branch for the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, called Hai Tian Development USA.
The decision will require the staff of these entities to register with the US State Department the same way that embassy and consular employees do, a State Department official said.
"These five entities all meet the definition of a foreign mission under the Foreign Missions Act," the official said. They are "substantially owned" or "effectively controlled by the government of the People's Republic of China."
The State Department's move signifies intensified scrutiny on China's state media presence and its activity in the US. Some lawmakers and officials in the US are increasingly viewing the Chinese government, and the media entities it controls, a threat to the national security of the US and its allies.
On Saturday, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the Munich Security Conference to highlight their concerns about the "wrong direction" China is taking under President Xi Jinping. Pompeo compared Beijing to Moscow and Tehran, saying the Chinese government was a threat to Europe and the US.
On February 7, some 35 Republican senators and representatives wrote to Attorney General William Barr to demand that China Daily be investigated and labeled a foreign agent.
The letter called on the Department of Justice to "clamp down on Chinese propaganda," investigate China Daily's "important role in China's foreign disinformation campaign" and address its "repeated violations" of a US law requiring that foreign lobbyists register and provide detailed reports on their financial activities.
"China Daily's important role in China's foreign disinformation campaign warrants a full-fledged investigation," said the letter, initiated by Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Jim Banks and co-signed by seven other Republican lawmakers.
In recent years, the US and China have challenged each other on multiple fronts, including trade, technology, defense, education, and now, the news media.
In February 2019, CGTN America was asked to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). In June, it was denied passes to cover the US Congress.
FARA was passed in 1938 to counter Nazi propaganda in America. The act has been invoked on Russia state news outlets such as RT and Sputnik since the US accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.
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