China says within its rights to expel US reporters, bar them from Hong Kong

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China is withdrawing the press credentials of American journalists at three US newspapers, intensifying a bitter fight between the world's top two economies that has widened to include the coronavirus outbreak and media freedoms.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to say how many journalists would be affected by the measure. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China defended its decision on Wednesday (March 18) to expel American journalists from three US newspapers and bar them from working even in Hong Kong, saying the measure falls within the central government's purview over diplomatic affairs.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also warned that China would be compelled to take further action against American media and journalists in China if the United States did not "correct its mistakes".

"The US has said that all options are on the table. Today, I can also tell the US that all options are on the table for China," Mr Geng told a regular daily press briefing.

China's expulsion of the journalists, which sharply escalated a tit-for-tat between Beijing and Washington over press freedom, raised questions about Hong Kong's autonomy under a "one country, two systems" agreement that prevails between the territory and the mainland.

But under Hong Kong's Basic Law, as its mini constitution is known, Beijing is ultimately responsible for foreign affairs and defence in the former British colony.

Mr Geng said the expulsions were in response to US actions and that the decision to oust them, and block them from Hong Kong, fell under Beijing's diplomatic responsibility.

Earlier, China said it is withdrawing the press credentials of US correspondents with the New York Times, News Corp's Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post whose credentials expire by the end of 2020, and that those affected would also not be allowed to work as journalists in Hong Kong.

In the past, foreign journalists kicked out of, or barred from, China were allowed to work in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The expulsion is expected to affect at least 13 journalists, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which said it "deplores" China's decision.

Mr Geng declined to say how many journalists were affected by the decision.

The dispute has spiralled quickly. Last month, Washington forced Chinese state media firms to register as foreign embassies.

Beijing then expelled three Wall Street Journal correspondents - two Americans and an Australian - following an opinion column by the newspaper that called China the "real sick man of Asia".

The United States then slashed the number of journalists allowed to work there at four major Chinese state-owned media outlets to 100, from 160 previously.

It cited a "deepening crackdown" on independent reporting in China.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong said it was alarmed at the decision to expel the journalists and even more concerned that they would be banned from working as journalists in Hong Kong.

It said Hong Kong must provide assurances that foreign journalists working in Hong Kong and those applying to work in the city would continue to be issued employment visas without interference from the Chinese government.

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