A logo of China's Xinhua News Agency is seen in Times Square, New York. Photo: iStock

The US Department of Justice has reportedly ordered two Chinese news organizations to register as foreign agents amid an escalating trade conflict that has seen the two countries’ relations deteriorate sharply.

Should they comply with the order, Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network (CGTN), formerly CCTV, will follow Russia’s RT, which registered last year to avoid prosecution.

The renewed enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, is part of US government efforts to combat foreign influence campaigns and alleged election interference.

A group of senators, including Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy, have been lobbying the Justice Department to increase scrutiny of Chinese media organizations, arguing in a letter last January that Xinhua and CGTN fall under the scope of FARA.

Citing a National Endowment for Democracy report, the senators wrote: “both China and Russia exploit a ‘glaring asymmetry’: a lack of reciprocity caused by raising ‘barriers to external political and cultural influence at home while simultaneously taking advantage of the openness of democratic systems abroad.’”

Under FARA, which was passed in 1938 to combat NAZI influence, entities that fail to register and submit reports to the Justice Department regarding activities, can be subject to criminal prosecution.

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