WASHINGTON • The United States expressed concern over harassment and intimidation of foreign journalists in China, marking an escalation of the two nations' dispute over the work of reporters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that Washington was deeply concerned about the treatment of journalists from overseas, adding that Beijing "can and must do better".
Separately, State Department spokesman Ned Price said China's actions contradict its professed support of foreign media coverage.
"Its harsh rhetoric, promoted through official state media, towards any news it perceives to be critical of PRC (People's Republic of China) policies, has provoked negative public sentiment," said Mr Price, referring to China's formal name. He added that such rhetoric was "leading to tense, in-person confrontations and harassment, including online verbal abuse and death threats of journalists simply doing their jobs".
China pushed back at the criticism yesterday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying the remarks by Mr Blinken and Mr Price "distort facts, confuse right with wrong, and aim to pressure China with unfounded charges".
"The wrong practice shows the US has double standards and is bullying China in terms of media and press freedom," Mr Zhao added, having said on Thursday that the rights of foreign journalists operating in China were fully protected.
The US and China ramped up restrictions on each other's media outlets during the last months of the Trump administration, forcing journalists to leave or providing only short-term visas.
Tensions surfaced this month over reports of major flooding in Henan province that killed at least 99 people. The provincial branch of the Communist Youth League, an official arm of the ruling party, used social media to urge the public to confront a BBC reporter over his coverage of the disaster, said The New York Times and other media.
On Thursday, Mr Zhao declined to criticise reports of harassment of foreign journalists covering the flooding in Henan. He also reaffirmed his criticism of the BBC, blaming its reporting for the negative public views.