China said Wednesday it will expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post as part of countermeasures to the recent U.S. restrictions on Chinese media agencies and journalists.
It also demanded that in addition to those outlets, Voice of America and Time magazine provide information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China in writing.
The announcement, made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the early hours, came about two weeks after the U.S. State Department limited to 100 the number of Chinese journalists allowed to work in the United States for five Chinese state media outlets now designated as "foreign missions."
In response to the U.S. "expulsion in all but name," all U.S. citizens working for the three news organizations whose press credentials are due to expire within this year must notify the Foreign Ministry by Saturday and return their press cards within 10 days, the ministry said.
"They will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People's Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions," it added.
Nearly all the journalists working in China for the three major newspapers have press credentials that expire this year, according to The New York Times.
According to a statement by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, that includes at least 13 journalists, possible even more depending on how broadly the decision is implemented.
"There are no winners in the use of journalists as diplomatic pawns by the world's two pre-eminent economic powers," the statement said.
China said its "fundamental state policy of opening up (to the outside world) has not changed and will not change," adding that what it rejects is "ideological bias against China, fake news made in the name of press freedom, and breaches of ethics in journalism."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately condemned the Chinese measure, saying the Chinese state media outlets operating in the United States are part of China's propaganda machine, and that the Chinese action is not comparable to the one taken by the United States.
He also questioned China's attitude toward transparency.
"The Chinese will tell you they want more information and people to know about the country and yet they continue to take action like the one you see today where they deny the world the capacity to know what's really going on inside another country," Pompeo told a press conference in Washington.
China's Foreign Ministry denied such allegations at a regular press briefing in the afternoon, saying China has been transparent and responsible, especially in its reports of the current coronavirus outbreak.
If the U.S. continues to make "mistakes," China will be "forced to take further countermeasures," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang added.
Nine foreign journalists have been expelled from China since 2013 while 13 correspondents have been given out truncated-term visas since the beginning of last year, the Foreign Correspondents' Club said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the U.S. decision earlier to cap Chinese journalists working for five entities including Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network effectively expelled 60 correspondents, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Tensions between the two countries have escalated quickly in recent years following a prolonged tit-for-tat trade war that has now spilled over to other issues including demonstrations in Hong Kong and the current coronavirus outbreak.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong also expressed concern over the apparent interference from the Chinese government in Hong Kong's semiautonomous status.
Under the territory's mini-constitution known as the Basic Law, all decisions concerning employment visas for foreign nationals in Hong Kong, including journalists, are made independently by the local Immigration Department, it said in a statement. "If that system has changed, it would represent a serious erosion of the one country, two systems principle," the statement said.
The Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong has autonomy over local affairs except national security and diplomacy, which fall under China's jurisdiction.
"Hong Kong is part of China, and China's decision on the countermeasures falls within the central government's purview over foreign affairs," the Hong Kong Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry said. "The allegation of 'interference from the Chinese government' in Hong Kong affairs is patently absurd."