Beijing, CHINA – February 24, 2020: 12.30pm (IFJ): Chinese authorities have cancelled the press passes of three journalists from the Wall Street JournalÂ and given them five days to leave the country in retaliation for the publicationâ€™s recent opinion coverage on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the National Writer Union (NWU) call on Chinaâ€™s leaders to reconsider such a move at a time of global concern and urged for the journalistsâ€™ visas to be reinstated.
The move to expel the three journalists follows the WSJâ€™s publication of an opinion piece on February 3 by Walter Mead entitled â€œChina is the Real Sick Man of Asiaâ€, which critically outlined several of the Chinese governmentâ€™s failings in its handling of the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic.Â 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 ShuangÂ announcedÂ 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 aÂ decision by the United StatesÂ toÂ 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 Peopleâ€™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 andÂ reaffirmed the strict divisionÂ between the WSJâ€™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 FCC said inÂ a statementÂ 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. TheÂ most recent caseÂ in August 2019, involved Chun-han Wong a WSJ reporter and Singaporean national, who was denied a visa renewal following the publication of aÂ reportÂ on possible illegal activities committed by Xi Jinpingâ€™s cousin in Australia. Expelled journalist Philip Wen was also one of the authors of that report.
IFJâ€™s Australian affiliate, MEAA said, â€œNot only is the withdrawal of threeâ€™s press credentials an excessive and unnecessary action but it is also an assault on press freedom â€“ particularly at a time when the world is looking at China for strength and leadership.â€
MEEA further urges the Chinese government â€œto find a more constructive and cooperative approach to express its concerns about the opinion article that has caused offence.â€
The IFJâ€™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:Â â€œThis 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.â€