China is to strip US journalists from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post of their credentials.

The foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the outlets – along with Voice of America and TIME Magazine – must submit documents detailing “staff members, financial status, operation status and property they owned in China.” Press cards which expire by the end of this year must then be returned within 10 days.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In a further unprecedented move, the ministry also said that the US staff from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post would not be allowed to work as journalists in Hong Kong or Macau.

It is unclear how the restriction would be implemented and if it would apply to those with permanent residency in the Special Administrative Regions. Article 27 of the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of the press in Hong Kong, whilst Article 33 states residents have freedom of choice of occupation.

Tit-for-tat action

The action comes after Washington cut by almost half the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work for Beijing’s state-run media in the US following the ousting of three Wall Street Journal reporters from China.

Xinhua billboard in New York’s Times Square. File photo: Harshil Shah, via Flickr.

In its statement, the ministry said that China’s measures were “in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the US. They are legitimate and justified self-defense in every sense.”

“What the US has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organizations, and hence driven by a Cold War mentality and ideological bias. It has seriously tarnished the reputation and image of Chinese media organizations, seriously affected their normal operation in the US, and seriously disrupted people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries. It has therefore exposed the hypocrisy of the self-styled advocate of press freedom,” the statement said.

Head of NGO Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth said the move could also be related to the recent coronavirus outbreak: “Beijing is ostensibly responding to limits on the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the US for 5 Chinese state-run news organizations, but a big factor was undoubtedly reporting on China’s disastrous censoring of the Wuhan doctors who tried to warn of the coronavirus,” he said on Twitter.

PEN America’s CEO Suzanne Nossel said the dispute between Beijing and Washington was misguided.

“At a time when facts and information are a matter of life and death for billions of people worldwide, the cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation… is stunningly misguided and a grave risk to public safety.”

Additional reporting: Rachel Wong.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.