Chinese authorities should immediately restore the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal (WSJ) journalists and allow the media to report freely in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing on Wednesday that the government was revoking the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal journalists in retaliation for what he called a racist headline on an opinion piece titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”
Deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen are required to leave the country within the next five days, according to the newspaper. The column, written by Hudson Institute scholar Walter Russell Mead, was about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on China’s economy, and was published on February 3.
“China’s expulsion of three accredited correspondents in reaction to what it sees as an offensive headline in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal makes the country appear less like a confident rising power than a thin-skinned bully,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “During a global health emergency, it is counterproductive for the Chinese authorities to be limiting the flow of news and information. The press credentials of Josh Chin, Chao Deng, and Philip Wen should be restored immediately.”
In a statement, Wall Street Journal parent company Dow Jones said that the organization was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, and noted that the newspaper’s opinion section publishes separately from its newsroom, and that none of the expelled journalists had “any involvement” in the column sparking their expulsion. The statement called for the journalists to be allowed to stay in the country.
Chin and Deng, both American citizens, and Wen, an Australian national, are all based in Beijing, according to the newspaper. Deng has been reporting from Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak originated, according to that report.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club of China said that the government had not expelled an accredited journalist since 1998.
CPJ has documented previous instances of Chinese authorities refusing to grant or renew journalists’ press visas, as happened with BuzzFeed News reporter Megha Rajagopalan in August 2018, Agence France-Presse reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in June 2019, and Wall Street Journal reporter Chun Han Wong in August 2019.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to an email from CPJ requesting comment.
In December, CPJ published a special report entitled One Country, One Censor: How China undermines media freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan, documenting China’s efforts to impose censorship in Hong Kong and Taiwan.