China’s foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday that it summoned a United States embassy representative to deliver a message to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his condemnation of Beijing’s move to expel three Wall Street journalists.
The three reporters were forced to leave China after the Journal published a column that questioned China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the paper of racism over the piece which was headlined, China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.
Following the journalists’ expulsion, Pompeo posted on social media that “mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions”.
“The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech. The United States hopes that the Chinese people will enjoy the same access to accurate information and freedom of speech that Americans enjoy,” Pompeo had said.
On Wednesday, Zhao Lijian, a foreign affairs spokesperson, said Pompeo had completely confused right and wrong.
“The Chinese government has always adhered to an open, transparent and highly responsible attitude in the prevention and control of epidemics. The Wall Street Journal’s insulting headline against China is not about freedom of speech and the press at all. Anyone with a conscience should resolutely oppose and resist such racist wrong words and deeds.”
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Some China watchers, however, said that Beijing probably wanted to retaliate against the US.
A day before the expulsion on February 18, the US State Department designated China’s five most prominent state-run news organisations, Xinhua, China Daily, The People’s Daily, CGTN and China Radio as “foreign missions”, putting their employees in the same position as diplomats.
The head of the foreign ministry’s news department, Hua Chunying, also warned on Thursday of further action if the United States continued to “harass” Chinese news agencies in America, according to a statement from the ministry.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry had said that the Journal had been in touch with the Chinese government over the column, and admitted its “mistake”.
Toby Doman, spokesman for the paper’s publisher Dow Jones & Co, however, declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Reuters news agency.