The United States on Monday slashed by nearly half the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work for their state-run media in the United States, vowing reciprocity as Beijing restricts foreign press.
The move comes two weeks after China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters, although the United States said its decision was based on leveling numbers between the countries rather than retaliating over content.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that China has "imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China."
"We urge the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
A State Department official said that five media outlets, which last month were reclassified by the United States as foreign missions, would be allowed to employ a maximum 100 Chinese nationals as of March 13, down from around 160 now.
The United States is not explicitly expelling the 60 staff members, who in theory can seek employment elsewhere, although most are expected to be obliged to leave the country.
China on February 19 threw out three reporters from The Wall Street Journal -- two U.S. nationals and an Australian -- over what it deemed a racist headline on an opinion piece in its harshest move against international media in years.
Chinese citizens who work for other media outlets in the United States are not affected, the official said, and state-run media outlets will not be barred from hiring employees of other nationalities.
"The U.S. government has long welcomed foreign journalists, including PRC journalists, to work freely and without threat of reprisal," Pompeo said.
"Our goal is reciprocity. As we have done in other areas of the US-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field," he said.
Last year the United States issued 425 journalist visas to Chinese citizens, including family members, according to official data.
The organization most affected by the order will be the state news agency Xinhua, which will be allowed to keep 59 Chinese staff in the United States, according to a State Department official
The China Global Television Network will be permitted 30 nationals. The China Daily can have nine Chinese employees and China Radio International will be permitted two.
The fifth organization is the US distributor of the official People's Daily which is not believed to employ Chinese nationals.
In reclassifying the five outlets under foreign missions last month, the State Department required them to seek permission to buy property and also to provide lists of their staffs, including the growing number of Americans they employ.