China expels Wall Street Journal reporters

Journalists expelled over allegedly racist headline . . . 

“China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” – reads the headline of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opinion piece written by Walter Russell Mead published on February 3. The article’s headline allegedly used “racially discriminatory language” and sparked widespread anger on social media in China. This, in turn, led the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue a public statement, 16 days after the first publication, wherein the government revoked the credentials of three WSJ journalists and asked them to leave the country within five days. Two of the reporters are American – Josh Chin, the WSJ deputy bureau chief in Beijing, and Chao Deng – and the third reporter Philip Wen is an Australian citizen.

Not a new phenomenon in China . . .

This is the first expulsion of a credentialed foreign correspondent since 1998. But muzzling of foreign media is certainly not a new phenomenon. In August 2019, Chinese officials did not renew media credentials for another WSJ reporter – Chun Han Wong. He co-wrote an article that summer about Australia’s investigation into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s cousin’s involvement in an organized crime scandal. Philip Wen, one of the three to be expelled this month, was the second author of that article. The Chinese government’s media censorship has been a matter of much debate. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China called the revocation “an unprecedented form of retaliation.”

A knee-jerk reaction to a U.S. decision?

Mead’s opinion piece primarily talks about a hypothetical financial crisis in China and a potential chain reaction throughout the global economy. Opinion pieces are generally independent articles and have little to no newsroom involvement. The use of the term ‘sick man’ to refer to financial vulnerability is also not new, particularly among academics, intellectuals, and media. The Chinese government’s decision to expel the journalists coincides with the U.S. government’s statement, issued just a day before, that redefines five Chinese state-media organizations as foreign missions, as per the U.S. Foreign Missions Act. This decision enables the U.S. government to exercise more control over the Chinese media present in the U.S.