Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the decision during a Wednesday news briefing, noting that Chinese officials have “demanded that The Wall Street Journal recognize the seriousness of the error, openly and formally apologize, and investigate and punish those responsible, while retaining the need to take further measures against the newspaper,” the New York Times reported.
“The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and smear China with malicious attacks,” Geng added.
The employees have been 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 must leave the country within five days.
In the controversial editorial, written by Walter Russell Mead and published on February 3, the Chinese authorities are accused of “still trying to conceal the true scale” of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Mead claims that Chinese authorities continue to “struggle to control the epidemic and restart their economy.”
In a statement, William Lewis, chief executive of Dow Jones and Company and the Journal’s publisher, said he was “deeply disappointed” in China’s decision, urging that the visas for the three reporters be reinstated, the New York Times reported.
“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. However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret,” Lewis said in the statement.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club also rebuked China’s actions.
“The action taken against The Journal correspondents is an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations,” the club said in a Wednesday email to the Journal.
This is not the first time that the Chinese government has taken measures against reporters. In August 2019, the government rescinded the press credentials of Beijing-based Wall Street Journal report Chun Han Wong, who wrote an article titled “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Cousin Draws Scrutiny of Australian Authorities” in July 2019.
An official statement by the US Department of State was also released Wednesday, condemning what it implies is China’s restriction of speech.
“The United States condemns China’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal foreign correspondents. Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech. The United States hopes that the Chinese people will enjoy the same access to accurate information and freedom of speech that Americans enjoy,” the statement reads.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 19, 2020
Despite Western media’s continued scrutiny of China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded China’s response to the crisis. According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who met with Chinese leaders in Beijing in January, Chinese officials have demonstrated their commitment to halting the spread of the virus.
The new coronavirus first began spreading in mainland China’s Wuhan some time between December 12 and December 29. So far, at least more than 75,000 people worldwide have been infected with the virus, and more than 2,000 have died as a result, according to the latest data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.