WSJ. Image Source: IANS News

Washington, Feb 19 : Three foreign journalists of The Wall Street Journal were on Wednesday ordered to leave China within five days over an opinion piece on the country's handling of the coronavirus outbreak which the Chinese government termed "racist", reports said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it had asked the newspaper to apologise several times for the February 3 article but it had declined, the BBC reported.

The WSJ said that none of the three expelled journalists had written the opinion piece, which called the authorities' initial response "secretive and self-serving" and said global confidence in China had been "shaken".

The BBC said that this was the first time in more than two decades that journalists holding valid credentials have been ordered to leave China.

It said that China's decision came a day after the US State Department tightened rules on five Chinese state media organisations operating in the US, including state-run Xinhua news agency and the China Global Television Network, classifying them as foreign missions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the article was "racist" and "denigrated" the efforts to combat the outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people in the country.

"The Chinese people do not welcome media that publish racist statements and maliciously attacks China," Geng said, without naming the journalists being expelled.

The WSJ identified the reporters as two US citizens -- Josh Chin, who is the deputy bureau chief, and Chao Deng -- as well as Australian citizen Philip Wen.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the expulsions, while WSJ publisher, William Lewis, said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed" with the decision and emphasised the "complete separation" between the outlet's opinion and news departments.

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