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Here are some sample sources: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201902/28/WS5c7720fda3106c65c34ebd70.html https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/15/magazine/china-s-leap-to-american-campuses.html

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MathSciNet (you can read about it here; it's an online bibliographic database of math papers), lists 9842 papers including a reference to the New York Times, and 4 with a reference to the China Daily.

So the answer to your question seems to be: yes, if you have a legitimate reason to reference a newspaper (or other periodical) article in an academic paper then it is acceptable to do so.

In case you are interested, the journals that published papers referencing the New York Times are:

IEEE Trans. Automat. Control (459) J. Amer. Statist. Assoc. (255) SIAM J. Control Optim. (248) Statist. Probab. Lett. (218) Automatica J. IFAC (211) SIAM J. Comput. (211) Ann. Statist. (210) J. Multivariate Anal. (173) IEEE Trans. Inform. Theory (159) Statist. Sinica (142) J. Comput. Phys. (140) J. Math. Anal. Appl. (124) Biometrika (122) Bernoulli (113) Theoret. Comput. Sci. (111) Ann. Appl. Probab. (109) J. Comput. Appl. Math. (109) Quant. Finance (106) Classical Quantum Gravity (105) SIAM J. Sci. Comput. (103)

The ones referencing the China Daily are:

Bull. Math. Biol. (1) J. Comput. Appl. Math. (1) J. Ind. Manag. Optim. (1) Phys. Rep. (1)

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