Foreign correspondents are an easy target for countries embroiled in bitter disputes. The journalists from three of the United States’ most prestigious publications expelled by China are not diplomats, but professionals trained to truthfully, independently and accurately report on events. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and with a trade and technology war in full flight, their work is invaluable in enhancing mutual trust between governments and informing overseas audiences. But the measures were in response to actions taken by Washington against Chinese news agencies, leading to the likelihood that this is far from being the end of the matter. A foreign ministry spokesman said as much, warning that “if the US continues on the wrong track, China will be forced to take further countermeasures”. The journalists, believed to number 13, were from The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post ; in an unprecedented move, they were also specifically barred from reporting from Hong Kong and Macau. US designates 5 Chinese state media outlets as Beijing operatives Beijing portrayed the move as retaliation against US President Donald Trump’s administration last month imposing a cap on the number of Chinese citizens working for China’s five main state-owned media outlets in America and their designation as “foreign missions”. In response to the latter, China expelled three reporters from The Wall Street Journal . Not since the normalisation of relations 40 years ago have there been expulsions of foreign correspondents on such a scale. The measures are reminiscent of the depths of the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union. Sino-American ties have soured, but not to such a dangerous degree, although the tit-for-tat steps involving media staff are contributing to a spiralling of tensions. It has not helped that Trump and other officials are goading Beijing by referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus. About 60 Chinese media staff were forced from the US on the grounds that they were working for Beijing. It is wrong to assume all journalists are spies. If laws have been broken, there are legal channels through which action can be taken. Governments may not like what foreign journalists are reporting, but as long as events and facts are presented truthfully, their work has to be permitted. China ‘using visas as weapons’ against foreign journalists Hong Kong being included in the expulsions has raised questions about the city’s media freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law under the “one country, two systems” principle. Beijing sees it as a matter of foreign affairs, but needs to keep in mind perceptions and the need for journalists to do their jobs unimpeded. There is every need for restraint from Beijing and Washington and greater awareness of the difficult and important role of foreign media. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.