Chinese authorities have ordered three Wall Street Journal reporters to relinquish their press credentials — and leave the country — as punishment for a “racist” opinion piece published by their employer. The opinion article in question condemned the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The offending op-ed, headlined “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” criticized China’s attempts to contain the deadly virus, alleging that the government maintained secrecy over the true scale of the epidemic.
“China’s initial response to the crisis was less than impressive. The Wuhan government was secretive and self-serving; national authorities responded vigorously but, it currently appears, ineffectively,” wrote Walter Russell Mead, a “global view” columnist for the publication. “China’s cities and factories are shutting down; the virus continues to spread.”
The expulsion marks the first time since 1998 that Chinese authorities have simultaneously ousted multiple journalists from one international news organization, as detailed by The New York Times.
“The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and smear China with malicious attacks,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily news briefing Wednesday.
Shuang added that The Wall Street Journal had repeatedly ignored demands from Chinese officials to retract the article and issue a formal apology.
Media relations seem to be souring on both sides, as China’s decision comes one day after the U.S. State Department tightened rules on Chinese state media organisations operating in the United States, citing “propaganda” concerns. New regulations now require all five Chinese outlets — including Xinhua news agency and China Global Television Network — to seek approval to buy any property, and also to provide a list of all employees. The journalistic activities of these outlets in the U.S. would ostensibly not be restricted by the new requirements.
In a news article announcing China’s decision, the Wall Street Journal identified the three foreign correspondents as Josh Chin, deputy bureau chief in Beijing and a U.S. citizen; Chao Deng, a reporter covering the economy, finance, and trade; and Philip Wen, an Australian citizen.
Dow Jones chief executive and publisher of the newspaper, William Lewis, said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” with China’s decision, and had requested that the reporters’ visas be reinstated. Lewis pointed out that none of the expelled journalists had anything to do with the offending article, which was published in the Opinion section — separate from the paper’s regular news operations.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned China’s actions.
“Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions… The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech. The United States hopes that the Chinese people will enjoy the same access to accurate information and freedom of speech that Americans enjoy.”