China on Thursday said that media organizations that blatantly insult China and spread racial discrimination must pay the price, after the country expelled three reporters of The Wall Street Journal a day earlier.
"Does freedom of speech entail publishing a racist, discriminatory and insulting article?" Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang asked at a regular press briefing, defending its decision to revoke the correspondents' press credentials after the US newspaper published an op-ed China deemed racist and slanderous.
The article, titled "China is the Real Sick Man of Asia" by Bard College professor Walter Russel Mead, has triggered "huge indignation and condemnation from China and the larger international community," Geng said.
The US newspaper is doing "nothing but fudging the issue and dodging its responsibility," Geng said, adding that China has the right to take further measures.
In recent years, China has effectively expelled foreign journalists on a number of occasions by not renewing their visas.
Wall Street Journal publisher William Lewis expressed disappointment in China's decision, saying the paper regrets having "caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people," in a statement on Wednesday.
The three expelled journalists -- Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, both US nationals, as well as reporter Philip Wen, an Australian national -- had no involvement in the article, the statement stressed.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the expulsion, saying "mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions."
"The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech," he said in a statement.
China's decision came hours after the US government designated five Chinese state-run media outlets as "foreign missions" by law, adding fire to the two countries' disagreement over press freedom.
The law will require them to submit information on their employees and property holdings in the United States.