The EU on Thursday voiced concern about China’s decision to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters, saying the move was a fresh attack on freedom of expression.

Beijing ordered the Journal’s deputy bureau chief and two reporters to leave the country, saying the headline of a comment piece — titled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia” — was “racially discriminatory” and “sensational”.

Wall Street Journal. File Photo: Jennifer Feuchter, via Flickr.

EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Virginie Battu-Henriksson said it was the latest example of Beijing using visas to hamper the work of foreign journalists in China.

“The denial of visas and the revocation of credential in retaliation for the publication of an opinion piece are of concern and amount to further restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion,” Battu-Henriksson said in a statement.

“The EU is fully committed to the freedom of expression, online and offline, around the world. We will continue to discuss the human rights situation in our bilateral dialogue with Chinese counterparts.”

The three journalists work in the newspaper’s news section, which is not linked to the editorial and opinion section.

The Journal’s publisher William Lewis said the outlet was “deeply disappointed” with China’s decision and asked that the visas of the three reporters be reinstated.

The article, written by Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead, criticised the Chinese government’s initial response to the new coronavirus outbreak — calling the Wuhan city government at the virus epicentre “secretive and self-serving”, while dismissing national efforts as ineffective.

China’s move to force out the three journalists marks a drastic escalation in pressure on the international media. Multiple foreign reporters have been effectively expelled over the past five years.

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