The move to expel the three journalists follows the WSJ’s publication of an opinion piece on February 3 by Walter Mead entitled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”, which critically outlined several of the Chinese government’s failings in its handling of the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic. The Chinese government criticised the article, calling it racist and discriminatory and demanded an apology.
During a February 19 press conference, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang announced it was revoking the press passes of WSJ deputy bureau chief, Josh Chin and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen, despite the fact that none worked on the article in question. Chin and Deng are American citizens, Wen is Australian. The Chinese authorities move to expel the journalists came just a day after a decision by the United States to designate five major Chinese media outlets as government entities; specifically Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, the China Daily newspaper and the People’s Daily.
Shortly after the announcement by the ministry, William Lewis, publisher of the WSJ, apologised on the Dow Jones website for any offence caused by the article and reaffirmed the strict division between the WSJ’s news and opinion departments.
China continues to face widespread criticism over its response to the coronavirus outbreak, which began in Wuhan city in December, yet did not receive a formal acknowledgement or emergency-response from Chinese authorities until the third week of January.
This was the first outright expulsion of a foreign correspondent since 1998, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC), describing the move "an unprecedented form of retaliation against foreign journalists in China." The FCCsaid in a statement that at least nine journalists that have been forced to leave China since 2013, either through direct expulsion or by non-renewal of visas by Chinese immigration. The most recent case in August 2019, involved Chun-han Wong a WSJ reporter and Singaporean national, who was denied a visa renewal following the publication of a report on possible illegal activities committed by Xi Jinping’s cousin in Australia. Expelled journalist Philip Wen was also one of the authors of that report.
IFJ’s Australian affiliate,MEAA said, “Not only is the withdrawal of three’s press credentials an excessive and unnecessary action but it is also an assault on press freedom – particularly at a time when the world is looking at China for strength and leadership.”
MEEA further urges the Chinese government “to find a more constructive and cooperative approach to express its concerns about the opinion article that has caused offence.”
IFJ’s United States affiliate, NWU said, "Ordering three journalists to leave China, in the midst of a health crisis where the world is following every development, reflects the heightened tensions between the US and China. We request these press credentials be restored as limits on press freedom do not serve the needs of a world in search of answers to this immediate crisis."
The IFJ said: “This move shows the efforts the Chinese authorities are prepared to take in a bid to stem negative coverage of the coronavirus both in China and globally. Despite there being no direct link from the piece in question to the journalists, China has now ejected three senior journalists with no due cause. The end result can only be seen as an excuse to shut down all WSJ coverage and send a very intimidating message to any other foreign journalists in China and their media companies. The IFJ calls on the Chinese government to acknowledge the apology and statements made by the WSJ and allow the journalists to remain in China to provide vital reporting not only on the coronavirus but the other important reporting that sheds light on all aspects of China to the rest of the world.