Miffed Over Coronavirus Op-Ed, China Expels 3 Wall Street Journal Correspondents

'China is the real sick man of Asia,' said the headline which the country has taken exception to.

New Delhi: In what is being widely viewed as a significant escalation of pressure on western news media, China, on February 19, announced the expulsion of three Beijing-based correspondents of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), from the country – over an incriminating headline in an opinion piece in the newspaper’s edit pages. 

Printed on February 3, the headline said, “China is the real sick man of Asia”.

The WSJ, in a report, said its correspondents have been given five days to leave the country. The journalists whose press credentials were revoked are Josh Chin, an American citizen and WJS’s deputy bureau chief in Beijing, along with Chao Deng, also an American national, and Philip Wen, an Australian citizen.

In August last year, China declined to renew the press credentials of another WSJ journalist, Xhun Han Wong, for reportedly writing an article on a probe against a cousin of Chinese president Xi Jinping in Australia. 

The February 3 article, authored by WSJ’s global view columnist Walter Russell Mead in response to China grappling with the coronavirus epidemic, had said:

“China’s financial markets are probably more dangerous in the long run than China’s wildlife markets. Given the accumulated costs of decades of state-driven lending, massive malfeasance by local officials in cahoots with local banks, a towering property bubble, and vast industrial overcapacity, China is as ripe as a country can be for a massive economic correction.

Even a small initial shock could lead to a massive bonfire of the vanities as all the false values, inflated expectations and misallocated assets implode. If that comes, it is far from clear that China’s regulators and decision makers have the technical skills or the political authority to minimize the damage—especially since that would involve enormous losses to the wealth of the politically connected.”

On February 19, at the daily news briefing, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly said, “Chinese officials have demanded that The Wall Street Journal recognise the seriousness of the error, openly and formally apologise, and investigate and punish those responsible, while retaining the need to take further measures against the newspaper.”

Also read: Coronavirus: China Calls on India to Lift Restrictions, Normalise Movement of Trade and People

A New York Times report quoted Geng Shuang, the ministry spokesman, as having said, “The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and smear China with malicious attacks.”

Expressing “deep concern and strong condemnation over China’s decision to cancel the visa of the three foreign correspondents” in response to the opinion article which it highlighted was written by an author based outside of China, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement:

“The FCCC is now aware of nine journalists either expelled or effectively expelled (through non-renewal of visas) from China since 2013. China has evicted fair and talented journalists who have worked hard to bring unbiased, informative reports to their audiences and to understand China.” 

The statement further said that its members and their colleagues in that country “are suffering from an increasing frequency of harassment, surveillance and intimidation from authorities. The expulsion of these WSJ reporters is only the latest, and most alarming measure authorities have taken.”  

The February 19 NYT report said, “It also comes less than one day after American officials in Washington said they would treat five government-controlled Chinese news organisations – Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and People’s Daily – as foreign government functionaries, subject to similar rules as diplomats stationed in the United States.”