China expelled at least 13 U.S. journalists on Wednesday.

Beijing said its decision to expel journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were retaliation for Washington's decision to cut back on the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work for China's state-run media in the United States.

"They are legitimate and justified self-defense in every sense," China's Foreign Ministry said of the expulsions.

Beijing warned that if the US continues to impose new sanctions against Chinese media outlets or Chinese journalists, China will launch further retaliation. It also said that China always welcomes foreign media outlets and journalists to conduct journalistic work, but at the same time opposes any attempt to "produce fake news in the name of press freedom."

Over the past few weeks, China and the U.S. have been clashing over the topic of press freedom. Beijing's move comes after Washington decided to put a cap on the number of Chinese journalists allowed to work for five state-controlled media outlets in the United States.

Competing for greater political influence

Experts believe China's latest move is not only a response to Washington's decision to recategorize Chinese state-run media outlets, but also a consequence of the recent spat between the US and China over the coronavirus outbreak.

"It is clear that China is trying to control public rhetoric and tighten its control over press freedom domestically, while relying on propaganda and the expulsion of foreign journalists to silence critics as well as controlling the global conversation," said Chiaoning Su, a journalism professor at Oakland State University in the US.

Su is of the view that China and the US are competing for greater political influence in the name of press freedom. As the world frantically tries to contain the coronavirus outbreak, leaders of both countries also want to frame themselves as strong leaders. "We can expect these aggressive exchanges to happen more frequently in the near future," Su told DW.

The implication for Hong Kong and Taiwan

One thing unprecedented in China's latest move is that it bans these American journalists from working in Hong Kong and Macau, which are special administrative regions in China. Foreign media outlets often base their reporters in these locations to cover developments in mainland China.

Lokman Tsui, a journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believes Beijing's decision may have violated Article 27 of Hong Kong's Basic Law, which guarantees press freedom in the territory.

Furthermore, Tsui says, the move raises larger questions about the "One Country, Two Systems" framework and Hong Kong's autonomy. "[If they were asked to address this incident,] I expect the Hong Kong government to offer the same response as when they expelled the Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet," Tsui told DW.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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