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Congressional Research Service, The Law on Foreign Missions and Media in U.S.-China Relations, May 20, 2021

This CRS legal sidebar was written by Stephen Mulligan.
May 20, 2021

The United States and People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) compete in a variety of legal regimes, ranging from multilateral trade bodies, to human rights law, to international maritime law in the South China Sea. In some contexts, such as supply chain controls and export restrictions, the United States has leveraged legal frameworks in an effort to “decouple” its relations from problematic aspects of China’s government and economy. In 2020, this strategic separation expanded along a new axis: restrictions on foreign media outlets and foreign missions in each other’s territory.

According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, China revoked or limited more foreign journalists’ press credentials in 2020 than at any time since the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square events. Also in 2020, the United States capped the number of staff at some China-based media outlets operating in the United States by designating the outlets as “foreign missions” that are “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by the PRC. Later that year, the United States and China demanded reciprocal consulate closures and placed tit-for-tat restrictions on diplomatic access in each other’s territory. Media outlets report that, during the March 2021 meeting between the United States and China in Alaska, PRC officials discussed the possibility of reversing these measures as part of a broader proposed plan to improve the U.S.-China relationship.

This Sidebar examines the series of escalating actions concerning foreign media and missions, outlines the legal framework for the measures, and analyzes their relevance for Congress.

The Congressional Research Service is a non-partisan office of the Library of Congress. The full pdf of this report is available at the link below.