China revokes three Wall Street Journal reporters’ credentials over ‘headline’

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China revoked the press credentials of three reporters for The Wall Street Journal over a headline for an opinion column the government said on Wednesday was racist.

The expulsions come after the Trump administration on Tuesday designated five state-run Chinese news outlets that operate in the United States as “foreign missions,” requiring them to register their properties and employees in the US China said it reserves the right to respond to what it called a mistaken policy.

The headline on the Journal’s opinion column referred to the current virus outbreak in China and called the country the “Real Sick Man of Asia.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the February 3 op-ed by Bard College Professor Walter Russel Mead “smears the efforts of the Chinese government and people on fighting (the virus) epidemic.”

“The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community,” he said in a statement.

He said the expulsions came after the Journal refused demands to “make an official apology and hold the persons involved accountable.”

The term “sick man of Asia” was originally used to describe China more than a century ago when it suffered internal divisions and was forced to accept unequal treaties with Western powers.

Like most foreign media, The Wall Street Journal is unavailable within China and its website and stories are blocked by online censors.

Wall Street Journal Publisher William Lewis said in an emailed statement that the company is “deeply disappointed” with the reporters’ expulsion. Lewis reiterated the separation between the newspaper’s News and Opinion departments.

“This opinion piece was published independently from the WSJ newsroom and none of the journalists being expelled had any involvement with it,” Lewis said in his statement. “The need for quality, trusted news reporting from China is greater than ever; today’s decision to target our News department journalists greatly hinders that effort.”

Lewis also said it was not the paper’s intention to cause offense with the headline.

“However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret,” he said.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement expressing “deep concern and strong condemnation” of the Chinese 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,” the statement said. It said the expulsions are the latest case of growing “harassment, surveillance and intimidation from authorities.”

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