Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng
On February 3, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Walter Russell Mead with the headline “China is the real sick man of Asia.” For context on why this headline would be seen as offensive by Chinese people, see this Twitter thread by Financial Times reporter Yuan Yang.
The WSJ is censored in China, but the Chinese foreign ministry said on February 10 that the headline “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and [has] roused public anger and condemnation.” The foreign ministry called on the WSJ to issue a public apology and warned, “We reserve the right to take further measures.”
Then, on February 18, the U.S. State Department designated five Chinese state media outlets as “foreign missions,” essentially treating them as extensions of the Chinese government.
Within hours, Beijing retaliated — but used the Walter Russell Mead op-ed as an excuse. Or, at least, that is our interpretation. Writer Eric Fish suggests another potential factor — “fanning nationalist anger at Wall Street Journal (and by tacit extension, undermining all ‘Western media’) then taking decisive action to punish it, might be a winning move for the CCP at the moment.”
Three WSJ journalists were given five-day notices to leave the country. None of them were involved with the op-ed, but had all written on subjects that the Chinese government would rather not talk about. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China stated that this was the first outright expulsion of journalists in China since 1998 — though a total of nine have been forced to leave the country since 2013, the others simply did not receive renewals of their visas.
The three journalists, as identified by the WSJ, and some of their recent work, are:
- Josh Chin, an American and deputy bureau chief in Beijing, who had a byline on a major investigation into how Huawei has helped African governments to spy on political opponents.
- Chao Deng, an American working out of Wuhan, and detailing how authorities there are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Philip Wen, an Australian who co-authored a piece last summer on Xi Jinping’s cousin, Chai Ming (Qí Míng 齐明), who was under investigation in Australia for connections to organized crime and money laundering. The other author of that piece, Chun Han Wong, is a Singaporean national who was effectively expelled in late August when China did not renew his visa.
The Chinese foreign ministry claimed (in English, in Chinese) that the expulsions were a response to “media that speak racially discriminatory languages and maliciously slander and attack China.” While the first half of that phrase seems to apply directly to the Mead op-ed, the second half — 恶意抹黑攻击中国 èyì mǒhēi gōngjī zhōngguó — is how Beijing describes a variety of foreign reporting that it finds politically inconvenient. “Maliciously tarnishing China” is also what Chun Han Wong was accused of last August when his visa was not renewed.
In other news of repression of journalists and writers:
- Popular longtime opinion blog Dàjiā 大家 by Tencent News was suddenly shut down and had its entire archive of articles removed from the internet. The closure of the blog resulted in an outpouring of shock and sadness online.
- Two citizen journalists reporting from Wuhan, Fāng Bīn 方斌 and Chén Qiūshí 陈秋实, have disappeared in murky circumstances for more than two weeks.
- “Xǔ Zhìyǒng 许志永, a former law lecturer and founder of the social campaign New Citizens Movement, was taken away by police…while he was seeking refuge at the home of a lawyer in the southern city of Guangzhou,” reports the Guardian. “Law professor Xu Zhangrun Xǔ Zhāngrùn 许章润, who also published a public critique of Xi, was placed under house arrest for days and now barred from the internet.