China has revoked the press credentials of three journalists with the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal newspaper over a recent editorial headline the government deemed racist.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing Wednesday that the paper refused to apologize for the editorial in its February 3 edition, titled "China is the Real Sick Man of Asia." The editorial, written by American academic Walter Russell Mead, criticized China's response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus that has killed over 2,000 people on the mainland since it began two months ago. Tens of thousands of people both in China and several other countries have also been infected by the virus.
The phrase "sick man of Asia" has been historically used to stereotype Chinese people as disease-ridden and unclean. The headline, however, was written by someone on the editorial staff, not Mead nor the reporters.
The Journal has identified the three staffers as deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, both U.S. nationals, and reporter Philip Wen, an Australian national. All three have five days to leave China.
Another Wall Street Journal reporter, Chun Han Wong, was effectively expelled last year after he wrote an article about a relative of President Xi Jinping.
The U.S. State Department 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," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Wall Street Journal publisher William Lewis said in a press release Wednesday the publication was "deeply disappointed" over China's expulsion of the journalists "in response to the opinion piece published on February 3."
Lewis said the editorial was "published independently from the WSJ newsroom," noting "we enforce a complete separation between our News and Opinion departments."
Lewis said the publication regrets the opinion piece has "clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people" but that the expulsions hinder efforts to fulfill "the need for quality, trusted news reporting from China."
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China voiced “deep concern and strong condemnation” over China’s revocation of the three visas, declaring it “is an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations by taking retribution against their China-based correspondents.”
Wednesday's decision to expel the reporters comes a day after the Trump administration announced it would treat five Chinese state-run media outlets, including Xinhua news agency and China Global Television Network, the same as foreign embassies, requiring them to register their employees and U.S. properties with the State Department.
Cindy Saine contributed to this report.