BEIJING'S decision to withdraw the accreditation of German journalist Henrik Bork will not improve its image. China has long been sensitive about the foreign media, but it has been more accommodating than many other authoritarian regimes. It has not expelled a foreign journalist since the Independent 's Andrew Higgins was thrown out for publishing a secret document four years ago. To spoil that record now, particularly with a journalist from a country which has gone out of its way to improve relations, will deepen the mutual suspicion and incomprehension. Perhaps the intention was not to redress Bork's supposed negative influence on German public opinion. It is probably no coincidence that Germany was among the fiercest critics of the 14-year sentence passed on the dissident, Wei Jingsheng. China has no reason to love Bork, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Prime Minister Li Peng. But the timing of the move suggests he may just have been a convenient tool for punishing Germany for deviating from its previous conciliatory path. That is the wrong approach. China's international reputation is too delicate to be used as a political football now. Foreign media in Hong Kong watch such behaviour with alarm, fearing similar sanctions here. Hong Kong journalists are also wary, although they come under a different arm of government. Already some Hong Kong newspapers are unable to get accreditation in China and fear tougher restrictions locally after 1997, despite the guarantees of the Basic Law. Playing tough with journalists now will not win sympathy in the media or in the foreign capitals China wishes to cultivate.