China has ordered three foreign journalists of the Wall Street Journal to leave the country over an opinion piece it said was “racist”.
The article published on 3 February criticised the country’s response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it had asked the newspaper to apologise several times but it had declined.
The newspaper said the journalists – who had not written the opinion piece – were given five days to leave China.
China’s decision came a day after the US State Department tightened rules on Chinese state media organisations operating in the US, classifying them as foreign missions.
It told five outlets including state-run Xinhua news agency and the China Global Television Network that they had to submit lists of all employees, even though there would be no restriction on their reporting.
The WSJ article called the authorities’ initial response “secretive and self-serving” and said global confidence in China had been “shaken”.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the article was “racist” and “denigrated” China’s efforts to combat the outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people in the country.
“The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and maliciously attacks China,” Mr Geng said, without naming the journalists being expelled.
The Wall Street Journal identified the reporters as two US citizens – Josh Chin, who is the deputy bureau chief, and Chao Deng – as well as Australian citizen Philip Wen.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the expulsions.
“Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement.
The newspaper’s publisher, William Lewis, said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and emphasised the “complete separation” between the outlet’s opinion and news departments.
“Our opinion pages regularly publish articles with opinions that people disagree – or agree with – and it was not our intention to cause offense with the headline on the piece,” Mr Lewis said. “However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret.”
It is the first time in more than two decades that journalists holding valid credentials have been ordered to leave China, the BBC’s John Sudworth in Beijing reports.
The article in question was entitled “the sick man of Asia”, a derogatory term used to describe China in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. At the time, the phrase referred to internal divisions and the country’s weak position compared to global powers.
According to the New York Times, members of the Wall Street Journal’s own staff deemed the headline to be offensive and had requested that it be changed.