he Chinese government announced on Wednesday that three Wall Street Journal reporters have had their press credentials revoked and would be forced to leave the country, marking the country’s harshest single strike against foreign media in decades.
At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang explained that the expulsion comes in response to an opinion piece that the WSJ published on February 3 titled “China Is The Real Sick Man of Asia.”
For weeks, the Foreign Ministry has been denouncing the op-ed’s “racist headline,” calling for the newspaper to apologize for “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” and “slandering China’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.”
Written by Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead, the piece criticized China’s initial response to the outbreak, calling the Wuhan government “secretive and self-serving,” while arguing that such crises show how “brittle” China’s power remains.
Though the content may not have been to their liking, it was the headline that really got the piece noticed by Chinese officials.
The phrase “sick man of Asia” brings to mind shameful historical connations in China. It was used a century ago to refer to the country when it was fractured by divisions and under the influence of foreign powers and their “unequal treaties.”
With the Wall Street Journal declining to offer an apology despite weeks of pestering, the Foreign Ministry shocked the foreign press on Wednesday by announcing that three Wall Street Journal reporters would be kicked out of the country.
“The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community,” Geng declared.
“Regrettably, what the WSJ has done so far is nothing but parrying and dodging its responsibility,” he continued. “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.”
Those three journalists are Josh Chin, Chao Deng, and Philip Wen. They have been given five days to leave the country.
Josh Chin and Chao Deng are both US nationals while Philip Wen is Australian.
Chao Deng has been reporting straight from Wuhan.
The frontline of fighting coronavirus isn't just at hospitals. China has dumped all matter of responsibility on low-level government representatives — less than a dozen admins might oversee thousands of residents. “We’re not doctors," said one.https://t.co/pXlUPkLkzT
— Chao Deng (@Chao_Deng) February 15, 2020
It’s snowing in #Wuhan. Outside my window, a man was smoking his cigarette and gazing out from indoors; a young lady has been her at her desk all afternoon; an older woman sat knitting. All waiting for the weather to clear, all waiting for the outbreak to pass. #加油! pic.twitter.com/6pQnUwCRcW
— Chao Deng (@Chao_Deng) February 15, 2020
China has often used visa restrictions to exert pressure or express displeasure towards foreign media outlets and journalists. However, typically this is done by refusing to renew a visa or grant a new one like in the cases ofMegha Rajagopalan orUrsula Gauthier.
This is the first outright expulsion of a foreign correspondent in China since 1998 and the harshest action taken against the foreign press in the country since 1989.
In response to the move, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China has expressed its “deep concern and strong condemnation.”
“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,” reads the statement.”
“FCCC member correspondents and their colleagues in China are suffering from an increasing frequency of harassment, surveillance and intimidation from authorities,” it continues. “The expulsion of these three WSJ reporters is only the latest, and most alarming, measure authorities have taken.”
Our statement on China’s expulsion of three foreign correspondents – “an unprecedented form of retaliation.” pic.twitter.com/yDAFJqc163
— Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (@fccchina) February 19, 2020
The FCC notes that nine journalists have been forced to leave China since 2013.
One of those being another Wall Street Journal reporter, Chun Han Wong, who was unable to get his press credentials renewed last year after co-authoring a story on Xi Jinping’s cousin.