- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2020

The White House confirmed Monday it is considering retaliation for China’s decision last week to order three American reporters to leave the country.

The expulsions were to be discussed during a meeting of senior officials at the White House late Monday, The Washington Times has learned.

John Ullyot, White House National Security Council senior director for strategic communications, said the United States condemned China’s Feb. 19 expulsion of the three Wall Street Journal foreign correspondents, done in response to a headline on a Journal opinion piece on China that Beijing officials condemned as “racist.”

The move came just days after the State Department put new curbs on five Chinese state media outlets operating in the U.S., including the official Xinhua News Agency, saying they would now be treated as the equivalent of foreign state missions because of their close ties to the government.

“This expulsion is yet another attempt to control the press, and prevent the world’s readers as well as investors from reading important stories about China,” Mr. Ullyot said in a statement, without elaborating on specific steps the Trump administration might take.

But another Trump administration official said that the expulsion of a few or several Chinese media personnel is being considered and that action is expected in the near future.

The Washington Times first reported Wednesday that the administration was planning to retaliate for the Chinese action against The Wall Street Journal.

The offending Wall Street Journal column, by longtime journalist Walter Russell Mead, was given the headline “China is the real sick man of Asia,” a reference to China during the height of the opium trade in the 19th century.

Chinese officials subsequently announced that press credentials were being revoked for Josh Chin, the Journal’s deputy bureau chief in Beijing, and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen. Mr. Chin and Ms. Chao are U.S. nationals, and Mr. Wen is Australian.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the expulsions.

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

Wall Street Journal publisher William Lewis said the journalists targeted in the expulsion had nothing to do with the headline or the opinion piece.

“Our opinion pages regularly publish articles with opinions that people disagree — or agree — with and it was not our intention to cause offense with the headline on the piece,” Mr. Lewis said. “However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret.”

Members of The Wall Street Journal’s Chinese staff, including the journalists facing expulsion, have written their own letter calling on the newspaper to apologize and pull the offending headline.

“[This] is not about the content of Dr. Mead’s article,” the letter read. “It is about the mistaken choice of a headline that was deeply offensive to many people, not just in China.”

A U.S. official said last week that the administration could single out Chinese state media representatives who have slandered the United States in the past. China’s tightly controlled official media has accused the U.S. government of fomenting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chinese intelligence officers also are known to operate under cover as Chinese journalists. Another option being considered is to expel Chinese Ministry of State Security officers operating as representatives of Chinese state-run media.

In September, the State Department imposed tighter travel restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the U.S. as part of increased efforts at reciprocity for restrictions on U.S. diplomats in China.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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