The Chinese government has revoked the press credentials of three Beijing-based journalists from The Wall Street Journal as punishment for the headline of a recent opinion piece published by the U.S. newspaper that referred to China as “the real sick man of Asia.”
An official from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the decision during a press conference Wednesday, saying the Feb. 3 op-ed “smears the efforts of the Chinese government and people on fighting the [coronavirus] epidemic.” The move comes after the ministry had asked The Wall Street Journal last week to publicly apologize for the article and hold the person involved accountable.
“The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community,” the official said. “However, regrettably, what the WSJ has done so far is nothing but parrying and dodging its responsibility. It has neither issued an official apology nor informed us of what it plans to do with the persons involved.”
“The Chinese side handles affairs related to foreign journalists in accordance with laws and regulations,” the official added. “The Chinese people do not welcome those media that speak racially discriminatory languages and maliciously slander and attack China. As such, it is decided that from today, the press cards of three WSJ journalists will be revoked.”
The Wall Street Journal identified the three journalists as Josh Chin, its deputy bureau chief in Beijing and a U.S. citizen; reporter Chao Deng, also an American; and Philip Wen, an Australian national.
William Lewis, CEO of Dow Jones & Company and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, said in a statement Wednesday that the op-ed “was published independently from the WSJ newsroom and none of the journalists being expelled had any involvement with it.”
“In line with best practice, we enforce a complete separation between our News and Opinion departments,” Lewis said. “They are separately staffed.”
Lewis noted that “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.”
“The need for quality, trusted news reporting from China is greater than ever; today’s decision to target our News department journalists greatly hinders that effort,” he added. “We respectfully request that China’s Foreign Ministry reinstate the visas for Philip Wen, Chao Deng and Josh Chin.”
The initial cases of the novel coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, emerged back in December in Wuhan, the capital of China’s central Hubei province. China has since placed the city under lockdown but the economic powerhouse has still struggled to contain the spread of the disease.
COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.
As of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said it has received 74,185 reports of confirmed cases and 2,004 deaths on the Chinese mainland. An additional 94 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with one death in Hong Kong and another in Taiwan.
The newly discovered virus spread overseas, with 805 confirmed cases in 25 countries, including the United States. There have been three deaths reported outside of China, bringing the worldwide death toll to 2,009, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
ABC News’ Karson Yiu contributed to this report.