Update (0720ET): CNBC's Eunice Yoon, who has also been a reliable source of information out of Beijing since the outbreak began, has published a statement from Beijing about the expulsions: "Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racially discriminatory and malicious slander on China. In light of this, China has decided to revoke the press cards of the three Wall Street Journal correspondents in Beijing starting today."
#China revoked the press credentials of three @WSJ journalists based in Beijing. Foreign Ministry said move was punishment for a recent @WSJ opinion piece. @joshchin, @Chao_Deng, @PhilipWen11 ordered to leave in 5 days, said @JChengWSJ. https://t.co/1uhFYLzH9h— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) February 19, 2020
“Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racially discriminatory and malicious slander on China. In light of this, China has decided to revoke the press cards of the three Wall Street Journal correspondents in Beijing starting today.” at #China Foreign Ministry briefing pic.twitter.com/CRwu8YFWo8— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) February 19, 2020
Why do we have the feeling that this will be the first of many?
* * *
Beijing's propaganda campaign to paper over the depredations of its heavy handed quarantines and other outbreak-suppression efforts was launched into hyperspeed earlier this month as the international community - including the WHO - started questioning everything - from whether Beijing deliberately hid information about the outbreak in the early days (looks like it did), to whether the virus was originally developed in a bioweapons lab in Wuhan before being unleashed on the public (...), to whether Beijng was actually capable of resolving this issue without some kind of intervention.
These doubts likely played some role in Beijing's decision to refuse to allow foreign experts into the country - though it gladly accepted shipments of facemasks and medicine - as the most important thing is that the Communist Party project an image of strength upon the global stage.
Which is probably why this editorial annoyed them so much.
From time to time, China expels foreign journalists. In recent years, reporters from Bloomberg, WSJ and the New York Times have been booted from the country. But early Wednesday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that three of its reporters - Deputy Beijing Bureau Chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, as well as reporter Philip Wen have been ordered to leave China in five days, according to Jonathan Cheng, WSJ's Beijing bureau chief and a formidable foreign correspondent in his own right.
Amid the chaos of the breakout's early days, WSJ's Beijing bureau was responsible for some seriously ambitious pieces, and Deng's reporting in particular distinguished him as one of the first western reporters to convey serious doubts about the accuracy of China's tests.
American cartoon "South Park" has been banned in China
Although expulsions of reporters are relatively common, WSJ's editors noted that this is the first time Beijing has expelled multiple reporters from the same foreign news organization in the post-Mao era.
In a strange twist, Beijing didn't mention any of these pieces in its communications with WSJ. According to the paper, an Opinion Section piece titled "China Is The Real Sick Man of Asia." was cited as the reason all three reporters were given five days to leave the country.
The piece was written by Walter Russel Mead for WSJ's "Global View" column. None of the reporters targeted by Beijing had a hand in writing the piece, according to WSJ.
However, Beijing said it wanted to punish the news organization because it felt the column was "racist". This isn't the first time we've heard this excuse from Beijing: the Chinese media have been beating the racism drum for a while to try and discredit criticisms of Beijing's virus response.
As WSJ reminds us:
The phrase “sick man of Asia” was used by both outsiders and Chinese intellectuals to refer to a weakened China’s exploitation by European powers and Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a period now described in Chinese history textbooks as the “century of humiliation.”
It seems Beijing has taken a page out of the American SJW's playbook: Once somebody's accused of racism, logical inquiry ends. We wonder if the Chinese people feel the same way?