The State Department is designating five Chinese media outlets “foreign missions,” calling them, in essence, state-sponsored propaganda and agents of the Communist Party of China, officials announced Tuesday.
State Department officials said the action came after repeated examples of how much of a “function of the state” the companies have become. It took effect immediately, one senior department official said.
The U.S. offices of the five Chinese media outlets designated “foreign missions” were:
-Xinhua News Agency
-China Global Television Network
-China Radio International
-China Daily Distribution Corporation
-Hai Tian Development USA
The State Department is carrying out this action under authorities granted by the Foreign Mission Act, according to documents obtained by Fox News. The designation has been in the works since December, one official said.
Agency officials would not speculate as to how Beijing would react.
“This action is long overdue. For years, these so-called media outlets have been mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party and these Chinese outlets are becoming more aggressive,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Axios.
With the designations, the media companies will have to notify the Office of Foreign Missions of their personnel in the U.S. and any other changes to that, along with their current real property holdings in the U.S.
In addition, prior approval will be needed to obtain new properties, including leases.
“Entities designated as foreign missions must adhere to certain administrative requirements that also apply to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States,” according to the State Department documents. “At this time, they must inform the State Department of their personnel rosters as well as their real estate holdings,” just as any country would regarding its diplomatic personnel.
Spies routinely have used diplomatic cover to hide their presence abroad.
The new State Department designation was meant to highlight “increasing” Chinese government media activities in the United States. The Chinese Communist Party has exerted more control over its state news agencies and that control has “tightened in recent years.” The Chinese government has “expanded” its overseas media operations, according to a State Department official.
“These five newly designated entities are not independent news organizations – they are effectively controlled by the [People’s Republic of China]," according to one of the documents.
“These five entities all meet the definition of a foreign mission under the Foreign Missions Act, which is to say that they are ‘substantially owned or effectively controlled’ by a foreign government,” in this case the Chinese communist government, according to the State Department document.
In Europe, Defense Secretary Mark Esper called China, not Russia, the Pentagon's “top concern,” in a speech last Saturday at the Munich Security Conference.
“It is essential that we — as an international community — wake up to the challenges presented by China's manipulation… seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost,” Esper said in prepared remarks.
Esper reiterated the Trump administration did not seek conflict with China. In recent days, the U.S. Navy sailed a guided-missile cruiser and the Air Force flew B-52 bombers near Taiwan.
It’s not the first time the State Department has designated media outlets as “foreign missions.” The last time was in 2010 with the Vietnam News Agency and in 1987, the State Department designated outlets under the former Soviet Union as foreign missions.
The Trump administration has taken an increasingly hardline approach to Beijing.
Last week, the Justice Department charged four members of the Chinese army with stealing data from 145 million Americans in the hack of Equifax, a credit reporting agency, in 2017.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have increasingly called out China in public statements to highlight China’s nefarious activities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned Sunday that accepting Chinese 5G wireless technology giant Huawei would be “choosing autocracy versus democracy.”
In an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accused China of not being transparent about the origins of the coronavirus outbreak. “We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Cotton said. “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”
When the Arkansas senator was accused of spreading a conspiracy by hinting the virus was a Chinese bioweapon, Cotton pushed back in a series of tweets, laying out his hypothesis about the origins of the coronavirus in China.
Despite the hawkish tone in Washington, the Trump administration has made peace with China in at least one area: trade. Last month, President Trump signaled a partial truce with Beijing by signing “Phase 1” of a China trade deal.
Fox News' Mike Arroyo, Louis Casiano, Nick Kalman and Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo contributed to this report.