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US tells China not to interfere with its journalists in Hong Kong

May 18, 2020

The US has warned China against interfering with American journalists working in Hong Kong, as a row between the two countries escalated.

The two sides have expelled each other’s reporters in tit-for-tat moves over recent months as they trade barbs over press freedom and the coronavirus pandemic, with US President Donald Trump threatening to impose fresh trade tariffs.

“It has recently come to my attention that the Chinese government has threatened to interfere with the work of American journalists in Hong Kong,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Sunday.

“These journalists are members of a free press, not propaganda cadres.”

Pompeo did not explicitly criticize China or give specific examples of what he was referring to, but the statement is the latest US response after Beijing expelled more than a dozen American reporters.

“Any decision impinging on Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms as guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law would inevitably impact our assessment of One Country, Two Systems and the status of the territory,” Pompeo said, referring to the arrangement under which Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain in 1997.

It is designed to guarantee rights and freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.

“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” China said Monday, without directly addressing or denying the allegations from Pompeo.

“No foreign government, organization, or individual has the right to interfere,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a regular press briefing.

Zhao also accused the US of “escalating its crackdown on the Chinese media” and “seriously interfering with the normal reporting activities of the Chinese media in the US.”

In February, China kicked out three journalists from The Wall Street Journal over what it deemed a racist headline by the US newspaper.

The headline, “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”, was on an opinion piece that the three journalists were not involved in writing.

Weeks later, Washington curbed the number of Chinese nationals from state-run news outlets in the United States.

Beijing responded in March by expelling more than a dozen American journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry also made the landmark announcement that these journalists would not be allowed to work in Hong Kong, even though the financial hub is nominally in charge of its own immigration policies.

The semi-autonomous city is a major regional base for international media partly because it boasts certain liberties denied on the authoritarian mainland.

The foreign ministry’s decision caused alarm among both media and business groups who fear a new precedent has been set and that international companies in Hong Kong could become hostage to US-China tensions.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government has yet to state clearly whether it has the discretion to allow any of the expelled journalists in — including one who is a US citizen with permanent residency status in Hong Kong.

to-rox/rma

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.