Speaking at a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the expulsion was due to an opinion piece published by the US news organization on February 3, entitled “China is the real sick man of Asia.”
“The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community,” Geng said.
“Regrettably, what the WSJ has done so far is nothing but parrying and dodging its responsibility. It has neither issued an official apology nor informed us of what it plans to do with the persons involved. … As such, it is decided that from today, the press cards of three WSJ journalists will be revoked.”
Chinese authorities have increasingly used visa restrictions to show displeasure with or exert pressure over foreign media in China. Numerous foreign journalists have been placed on short-term visas instead of the standard one-year visa.
But it is highly unusual for an international journalist to be expelled from the country.
In a statement Wednesday, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China described the move to expel the three reporters as an “unprecedented form of retaliation against foreign journalists in China.”
“FCCC member correspondents and their colleagues in China are suffering from an increasing frequency of harassment, surveillance and intimidation from authorities. The expulsion of these three WSJ reporters is only the latest, and most alarming, measure authorities have taken.”
The FCCC confirmed to CNN that the decision represented the largest single expulsion of foreign correspondents since 1989, and the first outright expulsion of a foreign correspondent since 1998.
In an article about the expulsion on its website, the Wall Street Journal said its deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen had been given five days to leave the country.
Another Wall Street Journal reporter, Chun Han Wong, was effectively expelled from the country in August last year after the government declined to renew his press credentials following his co-authoring of a report on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s cousin.
Wednesday’s move comes less than one day after United States officials announced they would be treating five major Chinese state-run media companies as effective extensions of the Chinese government.
A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Xinhua, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily and People’s Daily will be designated as “foreign missions,” effective immediately.
The change will mean that the media companies will now need US government approval to buy or lease office space in the US and will have to register personnel changes with the US State Department.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry described the decision as “unreasonable and unacceptable” and maintained that China reserved the right to “respond further on this matter.
The expulsion of the three journalists follows a weeks-long campaign in Chinese state media attacking the Wall Street Journal over its decision to publish the opinion piece.
The controversially headlined article was written by US academic Walter Russell Mead and criticized Beijing’s initial reaction to the coronavirus epidemic, hypothesizing what effect the outbreak might have on the country’s economy and political system.
In a Twitter post Wednesday, the state-run tabloid Global Times claimed the headline was “racist” and published an opinion piece calling on the Wall Street Journal to “apologize.”
“A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has also demanded a public apology from the paper. But the Wall Street Journal still has not apologized, nor has it taken any actions to correct the mistake. It continues to adhere to its arrogance and prejudice,” the opinion piece said.