China announces new restrictions on US diplomats' activities

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2019, file photo, Chinese staffers adjust a U.S. flag before the opening session of trade negotiations between U.S. and Chinese trade representatives at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. China is delaying the renewal of press cards for at least five journalists working at four U.S. media outlets, an organization of foreign correspondents said Monday, Sept. 7, 2020 making them vulnerable to expulsion in apparent retribution for Washington's targeting of Chinese reporters working in the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File) (Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING – China has announced new restrictions on the activities of U.S. diplomats working in mainland China and Hong Kong, in what it called a justified response to similar measures imposed on Chinese diplomats in the U.S. last year.

In a statement posted online late Friday, a foreign ministry spokesperson said the rules would apply to senior diplomats and all other personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and consulates throughout China.

However, the spokesperson said that China supported “normal exchanges and cooperation between all sectors of the two countries," and that the restrictions could be lifted if the U.S. were to revoke the measures it imposed last October.

“Once again we urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistakes and lift the unreasonable restrictions imposed on the Chinese Embassy and consulates and their staff," said the spokesperson, who wasn’t identified. “China will make reciprocal responses to U.S. actions.”

No details were given about the new restrictions. U.S. diplomats already face limits on which parts of China they can visit, even college campuses. The U.S. rules require Chinese diplomats to report travel and meetings in what was seen as an attempt to prevent interference within the overseas Chinese community and foreign students.

The rules were recently tightened further to require that Chinese diplomats not only notify the State Department of their plans to travel and meet with academics or state and local government officials, but also first obtain its permission to do so.

The U.S. argued that China already imposed the same requirements on American diplomats.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it had no immediate comment on the new regulations.

Washington has also complained about a lack of reciprocity in access to media, saying Chinese diplomats are able to put their views across U.S. outlets while America's representatives are shunned by Chinese state media.

Most recently, the State Department protested over the refusal by the Communist Party's flagship newspaper People's Daily to publish an op-ed by the U.S. ambassador to China, Terry Branstad. The paper responded that the piece did not meet its editorial standards.

China-U.S. tensions over trade, technology and a multitude of other issues have increasingly spilled over into the areas of diplomacy and media, with the U.S. ordering the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston in July. China responded by ordering the closure of the U.S. Consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, a double blow because of the mission's key role in monitoring activities in the restive Himalayan region of Tibet.

The U.S. also capped the number of Chinese citizens working for state media outlets in the U.S., leading to the effective expulsion of 60 reporters, and has reduced the length of visas for others from one year to three months. That has brought renewed pressure on U.S. outlets in China, and Beijing has delayed renewing credentials for several of their journalists pending a positive response from Washington.