01:16 GMT30 March 2020
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    Two of the three mainland China-based Wall Street Journal reporters whose press credentials were revoked last week due to the outlet publishing an opinion piece titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” left the country on Monday.

    The controversial editorial, which was written by Walter Russell Mead and published on February 3, claims that Chinese authorities are “trying to conceal the true scale” of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, and that they continue to “struggle to control the epidemic and restart their economy.” 

    The employees were identified by the Wall Street Journal as US nationals Deputy Beijing Bureau Chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, as well as Philip Wen, an Australian national. All three had five days to leave the country after the February 19 announcement.

    China’s decision to expel the three reporters was met with widespread criticism in the US. An official statement by the US State Department released last Wednesday condemned the expulsion, noting that “mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions.”

    Chinese officials have claimed that “sick man” is a racist phrase used by the West in the late 1800s to disparage China, which was fearing colonial rule by the West during that era.

    Dozens of Wall Street Journal reporters signed an emailed letter in protest of the outlet’s refusal to apologize for the article’s controversial headline, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

    “We . . . ask you to consider correcting the headline and apologizing to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it,” read the email written by Jonathan Cheng, the Journal’s bureau chief in Beijing. The email was sent to William Lewis, the Journal’s publisher and the chief executive of Dow Jones & Company; and Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp, which owns Dow Jones & Company.

    “This is not about editorial independence or the sanctity of the divide between news and opinion. It is not about the content of Dr. Mead’s article. It is about the mistaken choice of a headline that was deeply offensive to many people, not just in China,” the email added.

    Citing US officials familiar with the matter, a Bloomberg report published Monday said that the Trump administration is also considering expelling Chinese journalists in the US in response to China’s move. 

    "The United States condemns Beijing's expulsion of three Wall Street Journal foreign correspondents," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot also announced Monday, Reuters first reported. "The United States is considering a range of responses to this egregious act."

    Some analysts have noted that Beijing’s decision last Wednesday to revoke the credentials of the three journalists came one day after Washington tightened its regulations on Chinese state media operations in the US, causing concern that Beijing’s move may have simply been a retaliatory act.

    The US State Department on February 18 announced that five mainland Chinese media outlets - Xinhua, the China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily and Hai Tian Development USA - would be designated as foreign government functionaries. As a result, their staff members will be required to register with the US State Department as employees of foreign missions.

    “These five entities all meet the definition of a foreign mission under the Foreign Missions Act, which is to say that they are ‘substantially owned or effectively controlled’ by a foreign government,” a US official said last week, the South China Morning Post reported. “They are effectively controlled by the government of the People’s Republic of China.”


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