China has effectively expelled journalists from three US newspapers in retaliation for restrictions on its news outlets in the US.
Its foreign ministry ordered reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to return media passes within 10 days.
The papers criticised the move, which will affect at least 13 reporters.
The Times said it was a mistake for China to cut itself off, while the WSJ called it an attack on press freedom.
“We unequivocally condemn any action by China to expel US reporters,” said Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron. He said the decision was particularly regrettable because it came during the global crisis over the coronavirus.
At a press briefing in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called the move a legitimate response to the restrictions placed on Chinese journalists in the US.
China’s action is part of a swiftly escalating row between Beijing and Washington, and correspondents say the departure of the reporters will have a major impact on what the world knows about China as they do some of the most in-depth reporting about the country.
The measures were in response to “unwarranted restrictions on Chinese media agencies” in the US, the foreign ministry said.
It also demanded information about the papers’ operations in China.
China’s action also prohibits the newspapers’ journalists from working in the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, where there is greater press freedom than on the mainland.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration imposed limits on the number of Chinese citizens who could work as journalists in the US – the latest move in a tit-for-tat row over press freedoms.
“What the US has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organisations, and hence driven by a Cold War mentality and ideological bias,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Beijing to reconsider its decision, calling the move “unfortunate”.
“I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct the free press operations that, frankly, would be really good for the Chinese people in these incredibly challenging global times where more information, more transparency, are what will save lives,” Mr Pompeo said. (Courtesy BBC)