China accused of using 'visas like weapons', kicks out US journalists

China has announced it will boot US journalists out of the country as tensions between the two countries rise.

Reporters from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post were told on Wednesday they would be expelled by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Other media outlets such as Time magazine and the Voice of America were also ordered to provide the Chinese government with detailed information about their work in the country, The New York Times reported.

The move came after President Trump said only 100 Chinese citizens would be allowed to work in the United States for five Chinese state-controlled news organisations.

The Trump administration said that the Chinese journalists were government operatives, not journalists, according to the Times

China initially retaliated by criticising US media's coverage of its government's handling of the coronavirus. Chinese officials demanded an apology to an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal with the headline "China is the real sick man of Asia".

The country also took issue with Trump calling COVID-19 "China virus".

He defended his use of the term, saying he said it because China tried to blame the spread of coronavirus on the American military.

"I didn't appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them," Trump told media. "Our military did not give it to anybody," 

The US journalists working in China were told to "notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within ten calendar days."

The government also said that the reporters "will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People's Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions."

In a recent report by the Foreign Correspondents' Club, China was accused of "using visas as weapons against the foreign press like never before".

Executive editor of The Washington Post Martin Baron condemned the move, saying it was "particularly regrettable".

"It comes in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis when clear and reliable information about the international response to Covid-19 is essential," he said in a statement quoted by the Times.  "Severely limiting the flow of that information, which China now seeks to do, only aggravates the situation."