NEW YORK • The publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have released a statement critical of the Chinese government's decision to bar American journalists for the three publications from working in China.
The unusual statement, signed by Mr A. G. Sulzberger of The Times, Mr William Lewis of The Journal and Mr Fred Ryan of The Post, was released online early yesterday and scheduled to appear in the print editions of the rival newspapers later in the day.
"We strongly urge the Chinese government to reverse its decision to force the Americans working for our news organisations to leave the country and, more broadly, to ease the growing crackdown on independent news organisations that preceded this action," the statement said.
"The media is collateral damage in a diplomatic dispute between the Chinese and US governments, threatening to deprive the world of critical information at a perilous moment."
Last Wednesday, China announced that all American journalists at the three papers based in the country whose credentials were set to expire this year had to hand in their press cards within 10 days. The action would affect at least 13 journalists, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.
One of the journalists said they had been told they could apply for a temporary visa to stay in China for seven to 10 days after their press cards expire.
Beijing's move is the latest in an escalating diplomatic feud between the Chinese government and the Trump administration. The ouster of the American journalists followed the Trump administration's decision to limit to 100 the number of Chinese citizens who can work in the United States for five state-run Chinese media organisations that are widely considered propaganda outlets.
Before that, China had expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters last month over a headline, "China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia", on an opinion column about the country's response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The letter from the three publishers emphasised the need for a free flow of information during the coronavirus crisis.
"This move - made in retaliation for recent expulsions by the United States government - is one that we would protest under any circumstances," the publishers wrote. "But it is uniquely damaging and reckless as the world continues the struggle to control this disease, a struggle that will require the free flow of reliable news and information."
They added: "Even when this crisis passes we believe both countries will continue to benefit from freer access to news and information about the other."
China has been waging a broader crackdown on foreign correspondents dating roughly to President Xi Jinping's ascension near the beginning of the decade. During that period, foreign media outlets have reported on issues that Chinese officials consider sensitive, including camps for Muslims in western China, the suspicious business of some Chinese leaders' relatives and the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The publishers also offered some praise for China's containment of the virus.
"We have prominently featured news and analysis about China's remarkable progress in reducing the spread of the virus through containment and mitigation. Even now, with some of our journalists facing imminent expulsion, they are reporting on how China is mobilising state resources to develop vaccines that could offer hope to billions of people there and around the world," they wrote.