The US State Department’s decision on Monday to put a personnel cap on five Chinese news outlets operating in the country is the latest move to sabotage bilateral exchanges achieved in previous decades.
Like other international news organizations in the US —many of which are also government-funded — Chinese news outlets have played a critical role in helping the US public understand China and the world with their unique perspectives.
Having worked as China Daily correspondent in the US for more than eight years, I have no doubt about that role. My confidence comes in part from the positive words on my work from top China scholars such as Jeff Bader, Jerry Cohen and the late Dick Solomon, although they were critical of the Chinese government from time to time.
Some scholars I profiled started their China study in the 1960s, when the two countries had no diplomatic ties. They could not visit the Chinese mainland but went to Hong Kong, then a British colony, to talk to anyone they could grab coming from the mainland. Sometimes a mainland newspaper used to wrap fish became a valuable source of information for them.
Such a miserable time of no contact or exchange is long gone. However, the current US administration is going back in that direction by rapidly undoing many good bilateral exchange programs.
Under President Barack Obama just a few years ago, the two countries also faced many challenges, from cybersecuity to the South China Sea. But the Obama administration still invited the China military to participate in RIMPAC, a multi-national naval drill, for the first time in 2014 and again in 2016.
I covered RIMPAC in Hawaii. I also witnessed the 10-year visa agreement between the two countries in November 2014 and interviewed Edmund Downie, a Yale University graduate student, who was the first to be issued such a visa in Washington.
With the visa policy, more Chinese are able to see the US for themselves, instead of learning about it from dramatized Hollywood movies.
I was also there in early 2014, when US launched the 100,000 Strong initiative to encourage more students to study in China. Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry all spoke highly of the program. Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton were also supportive of the Confucius Institute, which teaches Chinese language, culture and history.
SelectUSA Summit, a US government program launched in 2013 to attract foreign direct investment, had for years been enthusiastic in attracting Chinese FDI.
These are just some of the many bilateral exchanges that have experienced dramatic setbacks in the past three years. The US no longer invites China for RIMPAC. It has tightened visa policy, and demonized Confucius Institutes and Chinese FDI.
The 33 percent favorable rating of China among US public in a Gallup poll released on Monday is shocking, but it is partly a result of the escalating smear campaign against China by US politicians.
Surveys over the years by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, in collaboration with the National Geographic and Gallup, showed regrettably low scores in global literacy among US adults and college graduates.
The latest US crackdown on Chinese journalists not only goes against the freedom of the press, it also undermines an important channel to keep the US public informed of the most consequential bilateral relations of the 21st century.
Such a reactionary move to cut those hard-won achievements in bilateral exchange may make it easier for some politicians to manipulate public opinion, but it does not serve the US national interest, the interests of China or the world.
The author Chen Weihua is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.