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China could take aim at American journalists in Hong Kong, if the U.S. doesn’t renew visas for Chinese journalists, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said.

“From what I know, given that the US side hasn’t renewed visa of Chinese journalists, Chinese side has prepared for the worst scenario that all Chinese journalists have to leave the US,” Hu said Tuesday on Twitter. “If that’s the case, Chinese side will retaliate, including targeting US journalists based in HK.”

The U.S. State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Global Times is a tabloid run by the People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party. Hu‘s tweets have become closely watched after accurately forecasting previous moves by China’s government.

Such a move would be an escalation of a tit-for-tat fight that has ensnared media employees in both countries. After the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on Chinese journalists, Beijing in February expelled more than a dozen of their American counterparts, including three Wall Street Journal reporters.

The Trump administration then ordered Chinese state-owned news outlets — including the Xinhua News Agency — to cut the size of their U.S.-based staff, part of a broader response to Beijing’s restrictions on American journalists.

Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong doesn’t issue journalist visas and is supposed to maintain independent control over immigration. But the city’s ability to determine its own immigration policy is being increasingly undermined.

In 2018, Hong Kong denied a visa renewal for Victor Mallet of the Financial Times, following his hosting an event with a local independence activist at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. It also refused entry to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. Some of the American reporters kicked out of China earlier this year weren’t allowed to go to Hong Kong.

Steps to squeeze journalists in the semi-autonomous financial hub could fuel further tensions between the U.S. and China. The world’s two biggest economies have seen relations worsen in recent months on everything from trade to Hong Kong, on which China has imposed sweeping national security legislation that’s raised fears about basic freedoms — including of the press.

Hu said earlier that a number of Chinese journalists will see their visas expire on Aug. 6, and “none of them” have yet been renewed. Beijing is preparing for a worst-case scenario where the U.S. forces it to withdraw all Chinese journalists, and will retaliate “fiercely” to refusals to renew their visas, Hu wrote on Weibo.

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