WASHINGTON - Chinese diplomats in the United States have been slapped with new restrictions on their movements and activities, in the latest move in line with the US demand for reciprocity from China.
Senior Chinese diplomats will need approval from the State Department to visit American university campuses and to meet with local government officials.
Approval will also be required for cultural events for more than 50 attendees happening outside the Chinese embassy or consular posts.
The State Department last year required Chinese diplomats to notify it of any meetings with local government officials or events on university campuses - but prior approval was not required. The new rule makes prior approval necessary.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday (Sept 2) told reporters the action was a direct response to long-standing restrictions on American diplomats in China.
"For years, the Chinese Communist Party has imposed significant barriers on American diplomats working inside the PRC (People's Republic of China)," Mr Pompeo said.
American diplomats in China are subject to "a system of opaque approval processes" that limit their ability to freely interact with Chinese society, on university campuses, with the press and on social media.
"We're simply demanding reciprocity," he said. "Access for our diplomats in China should be reflective of the access that Chinese diplomats in the United States have and today's steps will move us substantially in that direction."
He added that the State Department would take further steps to label embassy and consular social media accounts as Chinese government accounts.
China has taken advantage of the US' open society for influence and information gathering activities, the US contends. In July, the US ordered China's consulate in Houston closed and its diplomats expelled, alleging the consulate was being used for spying. Beijing retaliated by closing the US consulate in Chengdu.
Under Secretary of State Keith Krach had sent a letter to the governing boards of American universities, alerting them to threats the Chinese Communist Party poses to academic freedom, to human rights, and to university endowments, Mr Pompeo said.
"These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students, and opaque talent recruitment efforts," he said.
University governing boards have been urged to disclose all PRC companies invested in endowment funds, especially those in emerging-market index funds, he added.
"Divest from Chinese companies on the Commerce Department Entity List that are contributing to human rights violations, military coercion, and other abuses," Mr Pompeo urged.
'UNFOUNDED AND UNREASONABLE'
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday maintained that China has always facilitated the US embassy and consulate personnel's normal activities in China, and urged Washington to "stop obstructing normal personnel exchanges between the two countries".
"These actions completely violate international law and the basic norms of international relations, as well as the bilateral consular treaties between China and the United States. It is unfounded and unreasonable," said spokesman Hua Chunying.
"This shows the anti-China forces in the United States have lost their rationality and self-confidence, and have suffered from anti-China delusions," said Ms Hua, who added that China will "continue to support normal exchanges and cooperation between all people in the two countries".
US-China relations have this year in particular, plunged precipitously to their lowest point since diplomatic ties were established 41 years ago.
The Trump administration blames China for the Covid-19 pandemic, and Congress and the Administration have moved against China and Chinese officials and companies over a range of issues, censuring and banning companies and people involved in building infrastructure in the disputed South China Sea, internment and persecution of Uighurs, and using apps to gather data on Americans.
As the election campaign enters the last two months, China has become the top foreign policy issue, with both President Donald Trump and his rival, former vice-president Joe Biden, competing to be tough on China.
Referring to the most recent clash between India and China, Secretary Pompeo said the US hoped for a peaceful resolution. But he added, "From the Taiwan Strait, to the Himalayas, and beyond, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a clear and intensifying pattern of bullying its neighbours."
"That bullying is also evident in the South China Sea. Last week, the United States imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on Chinese individuals and entities responsible for the CCP's imperialism there, doing things such as unlawful energy surveillance, activities in the economic zones of our ally the Philippines and other countries."
Mr Pompeo's remarks came ahead of his virtual participation in Asean Ministerial meetings over Sept 9-11.
These include the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' meeting, and the launch of the Mekong-US Partnership with Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
"We'll have discussions that will be wide-ranging, including on Covid-19, North Korea, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Burma's Rakhine State" Mr Pompeo said.
"I'll also raise how the Trump administration is restoring reciprocity to the US-China relationship," he said.