China threatened Tuesday to retaliate against US "bullying" after Washington imposed staff cuts on Chinese state media, two weeks after expelling three Wall Street Journal reporters.
The US said its decision Monday to require Beijing's state-run media to cut the number of Chinese nationals employed in the US was based on levelling numbers between the countries rather than hitting back over content.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China "strongly opposes and condemns" the US announcement, adding that it effectively means the expulsion of Chinese journalists.
"Out of a Cold War mindset and ideological bias, the US State Department uses groundless reasons to politically oppress Chinese media organizations based in the US," Zhao said at a regular press briefing.
He said the move exposes "the hypocrisy of the United States' so-called freedom of the press as blatant double standard and hegemonic bullying".
Saying China reserves the right to react and take further action, Zhao added: "It was the US who broke the rules of the game first, China can only follow suit."
China on Feb. 19 ordered three reporters from The Wall Street Journal -- two US nationals and an Australian -- out of the country in its harshest move against international media in years.
China said it took action because the newspaper had not apologized for a "racially discriminatory" headline that read "China is the Real Sick Man of Asia" and appeared on an opinion column about the nation's fight against the coronavirus.
The three journalists were not involved in writing the opinion piece.
Two of them left the country last week, but the third has been reporting in Wuhan, the central Chinese city that has been under quarantine since late January to contain the deadly coronavirus epidemic.
In its annual report released Monday, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said Beijing was using visas as a weapon to intimidate foreign press "like never before" and feared it was preparing to kick out more reporters.
It said China had also been reducing the time journalists can stay, with at least 12 correspondents issued credentials for half a year or less -- more than double the number from a year earlier.
A US State Department official said five Chinese media outlets, which last month were reclassified by the United States as foreign missions, would be allowed to employ a maximum 100 Chinese nationals as of March 13, down from around 160 now.
The organization most affected by the new restriction will be the state news agency Xinhua, which will be allowed to keep 59 Chinese staff in the US, according to the official.