The Washington Post reports the action comes on the heels of a State Department decision on Feb. 18 requiring five Chinese news organizations considered organs of the government to register as foreign missions and provide the names of employees.
China responded by expelling three Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporters, condemning as “racist” an essay that ran in the news outlet’s opinion section criticizing China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“As we have done in other areas of the U.S.-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to U.S. and other foreign press in China. We urge the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.”
In announcing the move, senior administration officials cited the disappearance of citizen journalists chronicling the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. In a report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, called “Control, Halt, Delete,” 8 in 10 correspondents said they had encountered interference, harassment or violence while reporting and described the environment for journalists as deteriorating.
“We’re witnessing an assault on free speech inside of China that goes even beyond what it was a decade ago,” said an administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity under administration rules for briefing reporters.