US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Saudi Arabia yesterday.
Afp, Beijing
Beijing expels WSJ reporters over 'racist' headline over coronavirus outbreak
US to tighten rules on China state media over 'propaganda'
Pompeo, in Africa, tells leaders not to fall for China's 'empty promises'

China yesterday ordered three reporters from American newspaper the Wall Street Journal to leave the country over what Beijing deemed a racist headline, in one of the harshest moves against foreign media in years.

The expulsion came as Beijing also slammed Washington's decision to tighten rules on Chinese state media organisations in the United States, calling the move "unreasonable and unacceptable".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Journal op-ed -- titled "China is the Real Sick Man of Asia" -- had a "racially discriminatory" and "sensational" headline, and slammed the newspaper for not issuing an official apology.

The Journal reported that deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, both US nationals, as well as reporter Philip Wen, an Australian, had been ordered to leave the country in five days.

The three journalists are in the Wall Street Journal's news section, which is not linked to the editorial and opinion section.

The op-ed, written by Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead, criticised the Chinese government's initial response to the new coronavirus outbreak -- calling the Wuhan city government at the virus epicentre "secretive and self-serving", while dismissing national efforts as ineffective.

The phrase "sick man of Asia" originally referred to China in the late 19th and early 20th century, when it was exploited by foreign powers during a period sometimes called the country's "century of humiliation".

The February 3 piece "slandered the efforts of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to fight the epidemic", said Geng.

The new coronavirus epidemic has killed over 2,000 people in China and infected more than 74,000, and has spread to at least two dozen countries.

The expulsions come a day after the United States angered China for classifying five state media outlets, including Xinhua news agency and the China Global Television Network, as foreign missions, with State Department officials saying they were part of Beijing's growing "propaganda" apparatus.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday closed a three-nation Africa tour with a thinly-veiled swipe at China as he talked up Washington's ability to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship on the continent.

"Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises. They breed corruption, dependency," Pompeo said in a speech to diplomats and business leaders at the UN's Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

"They run the risk that the prosperity and sovereignty and progress that Africa so needs and desperately wants won't happen."