China has stepped up its criticism of overseas media reports and commentaries on the coronavirus outbreak and said it reserved the right to take action against material it deemed "ignorant" or "prejudicial".
On Tuesday, Beijing's ambassador to Nepal accused the chief editor of The Kathmandu Post, Anup Kaphle, of publishing views biased against China - a complaint that resulted in a rebuke from 17 editors across the Nepalese media.
The spat between China and Nepalese editors began on Tuesday, when ambassador Hou Yanqi said Beijing "reserves the right to further action" after The Kathmandu Post suggested China's secrecy had made the virus outbreak worse.
A statement published by the embassy on Tuesday said that an opinion piece published that day under the headline "China's secrecy has made coronavirus crisis much worse" had "deliberately smeared the efforts of the Chinese government and people fighting against the new coronavirus pneumonia and even viciously attacked the political system of China".
The 551-word statement added: "We hereby express our strong dissatisfaction and firm protest to it. This (article) fully revealed (the paper's) ignorance and prejudice on China, deeply hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and sparked strong indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and Nepali friends from all sectors."
The embassy also took aim at the paper's senior staff: "It is regrettable that Mr Anup Kaphle, Chief Editor of The Kathmandu Post, has always been biased on China-related issues. This time he went as far as disregarding the facts and becoming a parrot of some anti-China forces and, therefore, his ulterior purpose is destined to failure.
"The Chinese embassy in Nepal has made solemn representations to the newspaper and himself and reserves the right of further action."
The article, also published in the Korea Herald, was written by Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The Nepalese paper published it along with an image of a masked Mao Zedong, a move which the embassy said had "malicious intention".
Daalder wrote that Chinese President Xi Jinping had trumpeted the nation's authoritarian system as a grand model for developing nations, but it has come at a great costs as the coronavirus outbreak showed.
"We may never know if the spread of the new virus could have been prevented by earlier, concerted action. But the fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality," it said. "Authoritarian political systems don't do well when confronting unexpected crises, especially those like infectious diseases that require a rapid local response."
The 17 editors condemned the embassy for naming the editor and issuing threats against the media. They accused it of "violating diplomatic norms".
More than 75,700 people have been diagnosed with the virus in China. It has killed more than 2,120 people there and spread to nearly 30 countries.
Beijing said it was confident of controlling the virus and emphasised its rapid response, including building a hospital within 10 days in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. However, stories of attempted cover-ups and the stifling of speech widely reported by both Chinese and overseas media have challenged these claims.
Last month, the Chinese embassy in Denmark demanded an apology from the daily Jyllands-Posten after it published a cartoon of the Chinese flag with its five yellow stars represented by coronavirus particles.
"Without any sympathy and empathy, it has crossed the bottom line of civilised society and the ethical boundary of free speech and offends human conscience," the embassy said of the satirical cartoon.
In September 2005, the paper published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, outraging Muslims, who considered the images to be blasphemous.
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