Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that Chinese diplomats in the United States will now require approval from the State Department before they can visit an American college campus or a “cultural event” with more than 50 attendees held outside consular grounds.
Pompeo explained at a press conference that the enhanced restrictions are part of the “necessary work” of “restoring reciprocity to the U.S.-China relationship.” He said the U.S. is simply treating Chinese diplomats the same way the People’s Republic of China (PRC) treats visiting American personnel:
For years, the Chinese Communist Party has imposed significant barriers on American diplomats working inside the PRC.
Specifically, the Chinese Communist Party has implemented a system of opaque approval processes, designed to prevent American diplomats from conducting regular business, attending events, securing meetings, and connecting with the Chinese people, especially on university campuses and via the press and social media.
Today I’m announcing 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 added that the State Department is “taking further steps to ensure that all official PRC embassy and consular social media accounts are properly identified as government accounts, Chinese Government accounts.”
“Should the PRC eliminate the restrictions imposed on U.S. diplomats, we stand ready to reciprocate,” Pompeo said in a written statement released on Wednesday.
Pompeo described a letter from Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach to university administrators “altering [sic] them to the threats the Chinese Communist Party poses to academic freedom, to human rights, and to university endowments.”
“These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students, and opaque talent recruitment efforts,” Pompeo said.
He said university boards can ensure they have “clean investments and clean endowment funds” by disclosing all PRC investments, divesting from Chinese companies flagged as contributors to “human rights violations, military coercion, and other abuses” by the Commerce Department, and following “the recommendations issued by the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets.”
The recommendations Pompeo referred to were issued in early August and designed to help investors in U.S. financial markets avoid regulatory pitfalls caused by the lack of transparency in Communist China. In short, the President’s Working Group was concerned that Chinese opacity and political control of commerce could make it difficult for American investors doing business with them to satisfy the U.S. government’s audit requirements.
The Chinese embassy in Washington responded to Pompeo’s announcement by calling it “yet another unjustified restriction and barrier on Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel.”
The Chinese accused the U.S. government of hypocrisy for imposing a set of restrictions that “runs counter to the self-proclaimed values of openness and freedom on the U.S. side.”
China’s state-run Global Times quoted the embassy denouncing the American action as “a gross violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”
“We urge the U.S. Department of State to reverse its erroneous decision, stop obstructing normal personnel exchanges and undermining China-U.S. ties,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
The Confucius Institute, a network of “cultural centers” at U.S. universities that has been (very credibly) accused of spreading Chinese Communist Party propaganda and participating in intellectual property theft, also criticized Pompeo’s move.
Pompeo said on Tuesday that he hopes all Confucius Institutes in the United States will be closed by the end of the year, a goal Sweden accomplished in April, becoming the first European nation to completely shut them down.
“Contrary to what people have heard from the State Department, CI programs in the U.S. are independent of each other, set up and run by the schools that choose to set up Chinese language education, and staffed by people hired and supervised by those schools,” the Confucius Institute U.S. Center in Washington said in a statement on Wednesday, insisting that it is not part of an organized foreign influence operation.
The State Department previously required Chinese state media to register as foreign missions, reduced the number of Chinese journalists permitted to work in the United States, closed the Chinese consulate in Houston on suspicion of espionage, and required Chinese diplomats to provide advanced notice before meeting with officials in state government, local government, or educational institutions.
“This action is a response to what the PRC government does to limit the interaction our diplomats can have in China with Chinese stakeholders,” the State Department said when those rules were imposed in October 2019, using the same language of reciprocity Pompeo employed when announcing even tighter restrictions on Wednesday.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell noted at Pompeo’s press conference that even with the new rules, China’s restrictions on American personnel are still tighter; for instance, the reduced number of Chinese journalists allowed to work in the United States remains much higher than the number of American journalists permitted in China.