(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. expressed concern over harassment and intimidation of foreign journalists in China, highlighting the difficulties they face while covering the world’s second largest economy.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Thursday that China’s actions contradict its professed support of foreign media coverage. “Its harsh rhetoric, promoted through official state media, toward any news it perceives to be critical of PRC policies, has provoked negative public sentiment,” Price said, referring to China’s formal name.

Price added that such rhetoric was “leading to tense, in-person confrontations and harassment, including online verbal abuse and death threats of journalists simply doing their jobs.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken separately raised the issue on Twitter, saying China “can and must do better.” Blinken’s No. 2, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, brought up the concern in talks with Chinese diplomats in Tianjin earlier this week, Price said, calling on Beijing “to ensure that journalists remain safe and able to report freely.”

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing that the rights of foreign journalists operating in China were “fully protected.” Still, he declined to criticize reports of harassment of foreign journalists covering recent catastrophic flooding in Henan province and instead attacked reporting by the BBC.

“It smears China and violates its professional ethics,” Zhao said. “There is no such thing as love or hatred that happen for no reason.”

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