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China takes countermeasures to US by restricting movements of US diplomats

14:13 | 12/09/2020

China proclaimed on Friday that it would impose "reciprocal restrictions" on all American diplomats in China in response to previous restraints on the activities of its embassy staff in the United States.

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Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a statement that China would impose “reciprocal restrictions” on all US embassies and consulates on Chinese soil, including the consulate in Hong Kong, without giving further details, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

“The US practice has severely violated international law and basic norms governing international relations and disrupted China-US relations and normal exchanges between the two sides,” Zhao said.

Zhao’s statement on Friday was also framed as a matter of fairness, emphasizing that the reciprocal restrictions were an “appropriate, mandatory response” to the rule change imposed by the US State Department last week.

china takes countermeasures to us by restricting movements of us diplomats
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Washington to “immediately correct its mistakes”. Photo: Reuters

“We once again urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes, cease the unreasonable practice of restricting the operations of Chinese consulates, embassies, and all of their staff,” Zhao said. “Based on the US side’s actions, China will respond in kind.”

While Friday’s statement did not say when details of the new restrictions would be announced or when they would start, its mention of Hong Kong suggests Beijing will take a tough line.

US previously imposed new restrictions on Chinese diplomats

Earlier, on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a set of new restrictions for Chinese diplomats operating inside the U.S., a move the secretary said is designed to mirror similar “significant barriers” facing American diplomats in China.

The top US diplomat said that the "State Department has established a mechanism requiring approval for senior Chinese diplomats in the United States to visit university campuses and to meet with local government officials."

"Cultural events with groups larger than 50 people hosted by the Chinese embassy and consular posts outside our mission properties will also require our approval," Pompeo said at a news conference at the State Department. "Additionally, we're taking further steps to ensure that all official PRC embassy and consular social media accounts are properly identified as government accounts, Chinese government accounts."

china takes countermeasures to us by restricting movements of us diplomats
The US previously imposed new restrictions on Chinese diplomats Photo: CNN

As with other recent actions against China, Pompeo claimed the administration had undertaken the move in the name of reciprocity, CNN reported.

"We're simply demanding reciprocity. 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 said.

In a separate written statement, he added, "Should the PRC eliminate the restrictions imposed on U.S. diplomats, we stand ready to reciprocate."

Wednesday's announcement escalates a previous move from last October, which required Chinese diplomats to report in advance any official meetings and visits with state officials, local and municipal offices, educational institutions, and research institutions in response to restrictions faced by American diplomats in China.

"In China, U.S. diplomats do not have unfettered access to a range of folks that are important for us to do our job there. That includes local and provincial-level officials, academic institutions, research institutes, so on and so forth," a senior State Department official said at the time.

Senior officials at the time stressed that Chinese diplomats were not required to ask permission for these visits, only that they have to report these visits to the State Department.

Relations between the US and China have plummeted as Beijing and Washington have taken a series of retaliatory measures over the past several months.

Last month, the State Department designated a Chinese cultural and educational institution -- the Confucius Institute US Center -- as a foreign mission.

Earlier this year, they designated a number of Chinese media organizations as foreign diplomatic missions, arguing that they are under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.

China has expelled journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

The US ordered Beijing to shutter its consulate in Houston in July after US officials alleged it was part of a larger Chinese espionage effort using diplomatic facilities around the country.

The activities of consulate officials in Houston "are a microcosm, we believe, of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities that network is supported through the consulates here," a US Justice Department official told reporters at the time.

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