China warns of further action after revoking Wall Street Journal journalists' credentials

China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not elaborate on what other measures China might take against the Wall Street Journal. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China warned on Thursday (Feb 20) that it might take more action against the Wall Street Journal, a day after revoking the press credentials of three of the US newspaper's correspondents over a column that China said was racist.

The warning came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the decision to expel the journalists and defended freedom of speech.

"We reserve the right to take further action," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

China on Wednesday revoked the press credentials of the newspaper's Beijing deputy bureau chief Josh Chin, and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen, also based in Beijing, ordering them to leave the country in five days.

The decision came after authorities repeatedly called on the newspaper to apologise and investigate those responsible for the headline of a Feb 3 column that called China the "real sick man of Asia".

Wall Street Journal (WSJ) publisher William Lewis said in a statement that none of the journalists being expelled had any involvement in the column, noting the paper's policy for"complete separation" of news and opinions departments.

But Mr Geng said China was "not interested in the structural divide" at the newspaper.

"There is only one media agency called the WSJ, and it must be responsible for what it has said and done," he said.

Mr Geng did not elaborate on what other measures China might take against the newspaper.

China last year declined to renew credentials of another Wall Street Journal reporter, Chun Han Wong, who co-wrote a report about an Australian investigation into the activities of a cousin of President Xi Jinping as part of a broader criminal investigation.

Mr Pompeo condemned the expulsion of the three.

"Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech," he said in a statement.

Mr Geng, asked about Mr Pompeo's remarks, said the issue was not about the freedom of speech but about an article that smeared China.

"I want to ask Mr Pompeo this question: If you think the WSJ has the freedom to insult someone, then does the one getting abused have the right to fight back?"

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