March 17, 2020 7:16 PM EDT

The Chinese government moved Tuesday to strip credentials from American reporters working for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, in a tit-for-tat exchange with the U.S. that has escalated in recent weeks. Beijing also demanded those outlets, as well as TIME and Voice of America, hand over details about personnel and operations.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructed Americans working for the three U.S. newspapers whose credentials expire at the end of the year to turn in their press passes within 10 days. Those reporters would then be barred from reporting inside China, as well as in China’s semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The ministry also demanded information “in written form” about staff, operations, finances and real estate of the five American news organizations, including TIME, in China, Hong Kong and Macau.

The Chinese government said that the move to send reporters out of the country was taken in response to the U.S. not allowing more Chinese nationals working for state-run media to work in the U.S. On March 2, the Trump administration put a cap on the number of Chinese nationals allowed to be employed by five Chinese state-run news outlets operating inside the U.S. That action by the U.S. followed China’s decision to expel three reporters from the Wall Street Journal following the publication of an opinion article critical of the Chinese government. China’s “measures are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the U.S.,” the ministry wrote in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s announcement “unfortunate,” adding in remarks to the press Tuesday that he hopes “they will reconsider.” Pompeo defended the State Department’s actions to limit the staff of Chinese state-run media in the U.S. “The individuals that we identified a few weeks back were not media,” Pompeo said, “but were part of Chinese propaganda outlets.”

If the Chinese Communist Party follows through with the actions, it would mark the most sweeping press expulsions from China since Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. The moves were seen by free press advocates and news organizations as a way to intimidate reporters and chill news gathering operations inside China, which is still managing the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic that began there late last year.

Media industry leaders in the U.S., including top editors of the Times, Journal and Post, spoke out against the decision. “TIME stands against restrictions on the free press anywhere in the world,” said TIME Editor-in-Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal, adding: “We oppose any effort by the Chinese government or any other government to expel reporters or intimidate those whose job is to provide accurate information, especially during this crucial period for the world.”‘

With reporting by Kimberly Dozier/Washington

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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