Taiwan says US media expelled from China are welcome

Wall Street Journal reporters Julie Wernau (L), Stu Woo (C) and Stephanie Yang walk through Beijing Capital Airport before departing

American journalists expelled by China are welcome to set up shop in Taiwan, foreign minister Joseph Wu said Saturday, as the democratic island burnishes its credentials as a regional free speech haven.

Beijing ordered the expulsion of 13 journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal earlier this month as part of a widening spat over media freedoms with the United States.

The move marked the biggest crackdown on the foreign press in China in recent decades.

It also rattled nerves in Hong Kong because Beijing's order said the expelled reporters would not be allowed to work there, despite the semi-autonomous city supposedly controlling its own immigration decisions.

On Saturday, Wu took to Twitter to say the journalists would be warmly received on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

"I'd like to welcome you to be stationed in Taiwan - a country that is a beacon of freedom and democracy," Wu wrote.

"You'll find people here greeting you with open arms & lots of genuine smiles," he added.

Once a brutal autocracy, Taiwan has emerged as one of Asia's freest societies in the last three decades.

It regularly tops media freedom tables for the region and last year became the first place in Asia to legalise same sex marriage.

China's communist leadership claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to seize the self-ruled island, by force if necessary.

Beijing loathes Taiwan's current government because it refuses to accept the idea that the island is part of a "one China".

It has ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the island since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016.

But the pressure campaign has won China few friends among the Taiwanese, who voted Tsai back into office in January with a landslide.

A number of media organisations and rights groups that are banned from China have opened offices in Taipei in recent years.