By Huizhong Wu
BEIJING (Reuters) – China has revoked the press credentials of three journalists with the Wall Street Journal after the newspaper declined to apologize for a column with a headline calling China the “real sick man of Asia,” the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing made “stern representations” to the paper over the Feb. 3 column, which China criticized as racist and denigrating its efforts to combat a coronavirus epidemic, but the paper had failed to apologize or investigate those responsible.
“The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and maliciously attack China,” Geng told a daily briefing.
“In light of this, China has decided to revoke the press cards of the three Wall Street Journal correspondents in Beijing, starting today.”
He did not identify the journalists. The Wall Street Journal said its deputy bureau chief, Josh Chin, and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen, had been ordered to leave within five days. Chin and Deng are U.S. citizens and Wen is Australian.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo condemned China’s action.
“Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China also expressed “deep concern and strong condemnation” over the move.
“The action taken against the Journal correspondents is an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations by taking retribution against their China-based correspondents,” it said.
China’s move came after the United States said on Tuesday it would begin treating five Chinese state-run media entities with U.S. operations the same as foreign embassies.
Among these are the Xinhua news agency, China Global Television Network and China Daily Distribution Corp, which will be required to register employees and U.S. properties with the State Department.
Geng said China opposed the new rules and Beijing reserved the right to respond.
China declined to renew credentials of another Wall Street Journal reporter last year.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters at the time that officials at China’s foreign ministry, which accredits foreign journalists, had expressed displeasure at a story co-written by the reporter.
The June 30 report said Australian authorities were looking into the activities of one of President Xi Jinping’s cousins as part of investigations into organized crime, money laundering and alleged Chinese influence-peddling.
Foreigners are not allowed to work as journalists in China without official credentials, which are required to obtain a residence visa.
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Tony Munroe in Beijing, and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Kim Coghill and Clarence Fernandez)