US shouldn’t ban Chinese journalists even though some are spies, says American scholar

Published (HKT): 2021.05.04 06:40

A veteran American scholar of Chinese affairs said some Chinese spies are using journalism as a cover for their work in the United States, but argued against policies restricting freedom of the press in an interview on Sunday.

Perry Link, professor emeritus of East Asian studies at Princeton University, told Voice of America that there is a “definite asymmetry” between the American and Chinese media landscapes. Beijing takes advantage of U.S. freedoms to spread the messages it wants, while it is impossible for American news publications to do the same in China, Link said.

Link said some Chinese spies enter the U.S. using journalist visas, although he stressed that he was not referring to every U.S.-based employee of Chinese state media.

“At least some of them – and I don’t know how many – could only be described as spies, not journalists,” he said.

However, Link said he opposed bans on Chinese media or journalists, because he supported freedom of the press. The way to tackle misinformation is to debunk lies instead of banning speech, he added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week defended his department’s policy, which began under his predecessor Mike Pompeo, of designating several Chinese news outlets as arms of foreign government.

“The real concern here is Beijing’s use of propaganda and disinformation overseas, through state-owned media enterprises and platforms, with the purpose, in part, of interfering or undermining democracy, while restricting freedom of the press and speech in China,” Blinken said.

It was hard to accept that Beijing could “have it both ways,” Blinken said, adding that the administration wanted to make sure there was “transparency” regarding the Chinese state media’s presence in the U.S., and that people knew what they were reading.

Another American scholar, Dan Garrett, told Voice of America that China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is aggressively trying to  shape the global conversation, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“[Beijing] is using state media journalists as frontline warriors to spread anti-U.S. and anti-West misinformation and propaganda, to incite social unrest and division,” Garrett said.

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