At a time when Beijing is cracking down on dissent, the Communist Party has refused to renew the press credentials of a WSJ reporter who co-wrote an investigative report about a relative of President Xi Jinping.
The reporter, Chun Han Wong, is a Singaporean national who has been working at the paper's Beijing bureau since 2014. Earlier this year, he wrote a story about one of Xi's cousins, who has been under investigation by Australian law enforcement for his involvement in what investigators believe is a front company to launder money for high-stakes gambling.
Every year until now, the reporter's credentials have been renewed without issue. But when WSJ applied earlier this month to have Wong's credentials renewed, the ministry of foreign affairs refused. When asked about its decision, the ministry said it "opposes individual foreign reporters who maliciously smear and attack China. These types of reporters are not welcome.
Xi's cousin, Ming Chai, is a naturalized Australian citizen.
The private lives of top Chinese government officials are considered off-limits to reporters because they're extremely taboo. It's not difficult to imagine why: The government's communist roots make personal wealth an off-limits subject. Before the story was published, the ministry warned WSJ that it would face repercussions if it moved forward.
But the paper's editors refused to back down. And in a comment on Friday, the paper's editor in chief said it remained committed to impartially covering the country.
According to the Washington Post, WSJ's coverage of China has been considered incisive, but fair.
"It is disappointing that the Chinese government has denied our reporter press credentials," said Matt Murray, WSJ editor in chief. "Our journalism has been fair and accurate. We of course remain committed to covering the important story of China with the usual high standards that our readers expect."
Wong is the sixth reporter working for an American media outlet to be forced out of the country for their reporting since 2013, WaPo reported.
The wealth of Communist Party leaders and their families has long been a taboo subject. Both The New York Times and Bloomberg encountered visa troubles after they reported on the wealth of the families of then-Premier Wen Jiabao and Xi in 2012.
Since Xi took power that year, media outlets and various parts of civil society in China have faced tightening restrictions.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China stridently denounced the government's decision.
"Such treatment of foreign correspondents runs completely counter to Chinese claims that it supports openness and inclusiveness," the FCCC said in a statement.
Foreign reporters working in China need press credentials from the government to keep working. Press credentials are typically issued alongside their visas.
Wong was forced to leave China on Friday.