Trump Administration Considers Punishing Chinese News Organizations

Some U.S. officials have argued that expelling journalists runs counter to the American principle of freedom of the press.

Tensions between the United States and China have been high, largely because of President Trump’s trade war. The two countries reached an initial trade deal in December, but American national security officials have continued to push other nations to reject Chinese technology and infrastructure projects, arguing that they pose security risks.

President Xi Jinping of China has tightened limits on civil society and free expression since taking power in 2012. That includes greater clampdowns on foreign news organizations. Foreign journalists living in China usually get visas that allow them to have one-year residence permits, but in some cases that has been curtailed to a matter of months — to try to coerce the journalists not to report on issues such as the mass internment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Matthew Pottinger, the chief deputy on the National Security Council, is a former reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s Beijing bureau. He has worked for three years on the council, most of the time as senior Asia director, and has been a proponent of aggressive policies toward China.

Two of the Journal reporters, Josh Chin, an American and the deputy bureau chief in Beijing, and Philip Wen, an Australian, flew out of Beijing on Monday. The third reporter, Chao Deng, an American, is in the coronavirus containment zone of Wuhan, where she had been reporting. She is unable to leave because of quarantine measures.

The expulsions have led to an extraordinary reaction within The Journal. On Thursday, 53 reporters and editors at the newspaper, mostly in mainland China and Hong Kong, sent a letter to William Lewis, the chief executive of Dow Jones and the newspaper’s publisher, and Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled parent company of Dow Jones, criticizing the way that top editors handled the fallout over the Feb. 3 headline. It said the leaders should offer a formal apology.

Over the weekend, Mr. Lewis told the letter writers that he empathized with them but would not overrule editorial decision-making. He also pledged to continue pushing to get the expelled journalists’ credentials restored.