U.S. Officials Push for Expelling Suspected Chinese Spies at Media Outlets

The United States is scrutinizing most closely China Central Television, the main state-run network that has extensive operations overseas, the intelligence official said. It has an arm, China Global Television Network, that runs its own operations and broadcasts in foreign languages.

The main Chinese overseas spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, has operatives at various media outlets, say intelligence officials and experts on Chinese espionage. The People’s Liberation Army also has intelligence operatives overseas with media cover.

American officials were infuriated by China’s announcement of the new wave of expulsions of American journalists, who are not spies. The officials saw the action as part of Beijing’s attempts to censor reporting about the government’s missteps over the coronavirus outbreak.

The officials are now seeking a way to retaliate beyond continuing a cycle of retribution that harms people who practice actual journalism. Taking the fight to the intelligence services would do that, they say, as well as allowing the Americans to avoid criticism that they are clamping down on press freedoms.

One option that some officials have discussed that does not involve spies is limiting the reach and distribution of the Chinese outlets in the United States, whether those are television networks or newspapers. But that runs into the thorny issue of press freedoms. For years, the Chinese government has blocked online access to major foreign news websites and apps, and it often censors broadcasts by international television networks.

The wave of expulsions of journalists in the two countries began when China announced on Feb. 19 it would evict three Wall Street Journal reporters, the first outright expulsions of foreign journalists since 1998.

After that announcement, which came a day after the Trump administration imposed new rules on five Chinese state-run media organizations, American officials grappled with how to respond. Some raised the idea of expelling Chinese state media employees who did intelligence work. Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser and a former Wall Street Journal reporter based in China, led a meeting on Feb. 24 to discuss options.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/us/politics/coronavirus-china-spies.html

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