Chinese diplomats must get approval to visit US universities or meet local government officials
- The new requirements are a ‘direct response to the excessive restraints already placed on our diplomats’ by China, says the US secretary of state
- New rules require China’s embassy and consulates to seek permission before hosting events outside their properties with an audience larger than 50 people
Senior Chinese diplomats based in the US will now be required to seek permission before meeting with local government officials or visiting university campuses, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday, the latest back-and-forth retaliatory action between the State Department and China’s foreign ministry amid worsening US-China relations.
“These new requirements on PRC [People’s Republic of China] diplomats are a direct response to the excessive restraints already placed on our diplomats by the PRC, and they aim to provide further transparency on the practices of the PRC government,” Pompeo said.
“Should the PRC eliminate the restrictions imposed on US diplomats, we stand ready to reciprocate.”
Last October, the State Department implemented a requirement that Chinese diplomats must inform the State Department of their meetings with colleges or local officials. They were not required to seek permission first, however – a barrier that Pompeo said unfairly burdened American diplomats in China.
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“PRC authorities implement a system of opaque approval processes designed to prevent American diplomats from conducting regular business and connecting with the Chinese people,” Pompeo said.
“US diplomats’ attempts to host cultural events, secure official meetings, and visit university campuses are regularly obstructed,” he added.
The new rules announced on Wednesday also require China’s embassy and consulates to seek permission before hosting “cultural events” outside their properties with an audience larger than 50 people.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called on the US to reverse the “wrongful decision”, warning that China might impose countermeasures.
“This shows that the anti-China forces in the US have lost their rationality and confidence ... They are bound to be strongly condemned and opposed by people from all sides,” Hua said.
“We urge the US Department of State to immediately stop the wrongful decision, stop interfering with the normal exchange of personnel, stop harming Sino-US relations.
“The Chinese side will take a rightful, necessary response as the situation develops.”
Pompeo on Wednesday also called out Chinese diplomats’ communications with Americans via social media.
He said the State Department would “take action to help ensure” that social media accounts tied to China’s embassy and consulates were properly identified as Chinese government accounts.
He added that they would do so because the US embassy in China “is denied unfettered access to PRC social media” and “PRC citizens are blocked from using Twitter and Facebook, amongst other social media platforms”.
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Twitter, which is banned in China but used by numerous Chinese foreign ministry officials to communicate directly with an American audience, began labelling some government-affiliated accounts – including the US government – early last month.
Though Wednesday’s rule changes were framed as a matter of fairness and reciprocation, the State Department has expressed concern about Chinese government contact with state and local governments in the US.
In February, Pompeo spoke to the National Governors Association and warned state leaders not to be naive when dealing with China.
“The Chinese government has been methodical in the way it’s analysed our system, our very open system, one that we’re deeply proud of,” Pompeo said at the time. “It’s assessed our vulnerabilities, and it’s decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage over us at the federal level, the state level and the local level.”
In his own speech last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping encouraged Chinese outreach to local governments across the US.
“For all countries, regions and businesses that are willing to work with us, including American states, local councils and businesses, we must undertake cooperation proactively,” Xi said.
In response to Pompeo’s announcement, a Chinese embassy representative in Washington rejected Pompeo’s claim of reciprocity, accused the US of violating its own “self-proclaimed values” and said China had “always supported” American diplomats operating in China.
“We urge the US side to correct its mistake, revoke this decision and provide support and facilitation for Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel in the US to perform their duties as well,” the representative said.
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David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, told reporters on Wednesday that the US-China relationship, as it stood now, was “clearly way out of balance”.
“We asked the Chinese diplomats to notify us about their travels to all of these locations to see governors, mayors, school boards, all these other things that we know they’re doing,” he said.
“And we did that in an effort not to reduce the relationship, the interaction, but to get them to understand that we are going to insist on getting this relationship back in balance.”
Turning to another topic critical of the Chinese government, Stilwell also addressed concerns over Hong Kong’s citywide coronavirus testing regime. “I think the Hong Kong people are rightly concerned,” he said.
“I would point you back to before we had the so-called vocational training centres – the Uygur internment camps – we had mass genetic testing,” he said, referring to the estimated 1 million Uygurs and other Muslims put into camps in northwestern China.
“It was portrayed as health checks for Uygurs,” he said. “They were collecting DNA on Uygurs under the guise of doing health checks.”
Additional reporting by Catherine Wong