expelling three of the paper’s reporters, charging that the real reason behind the move was not a “racist” headline but a way of distracting rising public anger over the Covid-19 virus outbreak.he Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has shot back at China for
On Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry shocked the country’s foreign press by announcing that the credentials of three China-based WSJ reporters would be revoked and that they would have to leave the country because of their organization’s failure to apologize for an opinion piece published earlier this month titled “China Is The Real Sick Man of Asia.”
For weeks, the Foreign Ministry had been denouncing the op-ed’s headline as “racist,” calling for the newspaper to apologize for “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” and “slandering China’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.”
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.”
“Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racially discriminatory and malicious slander on China,” declared ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing on Wednesday.
“[The Wall Street Journal] has neither issued an official apology nor informed us of what it plans to do with the persons involved,” he continued. “In light of this, China has decided to revoke the press cards of the three WSJ correspondents in Beijing starting today.”
In response to the move, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has published a piece arguing that the evictions are not really about the headline, but a bit of manufactured outrage designed to divert the public’s attention.
President Xi Jinping says China deserves to be treated as a great power, but on Wednesday his country expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters over a headline. Yes, a headline. Or at least that was the official justification. The truth is that Beijing’s rulers are punishing our reporters so they can change the subject from the Chinese public’s anger about the government’s management of the coronavirus scourge.
The editorial goes on to make a number of points:
- It concedes that the “sick man” reference echoes in an “insensitive fashion” to Chinese ears.
- While noting that the phrase is commonly used in headlines by news organizations to describe problematic governments around the world.
- And pointing out that The Wall Street Journal is not published in China because it’s banned there.
- It brings attention to the online backlash campaign against the editorial’s author, implying that the campaign was guided by Beijing.
- And points out that the WSJ’s news and opinion departments are run separately, a division, it says, that the Chinese “understand” but “choose to ignore when it suits their propaganda purposes.”
In this case, the editorial argues that those purposes are domestic politics:
The coronavirus is a seismic political event that undermines Mr. Xi’s promise to his citizens about a rising China and the competence of the Communist Party. The government’s default defense is to play the nationalist card and blame foreigners for its home-grown troubles. That’s why it censors public complaints on Chinese social media, gins up a furor over a headline—and banishes the best reporters in the world from covering China.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned China’s decision to expel the three WSJ reporters, a move that came one day after his department reclassified Chinese state media outlets as “foreign missions” and operatives of the Chinese government.
“Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions,” Pompeo said. “The correct response is to present counter-arguments, not restrict speech.”
#Opinion: The Wall Street Journal is unwelcome in China. It is allowed to make profits in China, but insists on besmirching China and refusing to correct its mistakes. This proves its hostility and immorality. @WSJ. https://t.co/P6tTgQCGh2 pic.twitter.com/PIBXxYLldp
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) February 20, 2020
Meanwhile, China is sticking firmly to its stance.
When asked at a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday if China’s response was not unfair to the three reporters who had nothing to do with the opinion piece, Geng Shuang was dismissive.
“We are not interested in the structural divide at The Wall Street Journal. There is only one media agency called the WSJ, and it must be responsible for what it has said and done,” he said.
“Those media who blatantly insult China, pitch racial discrimination and maliciously smear China must pay their price.”