Trump Administration Cracks Down on Chinese Diplomats in U.S.

China has blocked American personnel in Beijing from meeting with key assets

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October 17, 2019

The Trump administration issued new restrictions on the actions Chinese government diplomats are permitted to take in the United States in response to the communist government blocking American personnel stationed in Beijing from meeting with key assets, according to U.S. officials.

The State Department will now require all Chinese foreign missions, including embassy staff and those working in consulates across the United States, to notify the Trump administration in advance of all official meetings held on American soil.

The new directive, U.S. officials say, is a response to China's ongoing constraints on American diplomats. In many cases, the communist government blocks American personnel in China from meeting with local officials, academics, and dissident groups, among others.

The U.S. restrictions are meant to pressure the Chinese government into providing American diplomats with greater freedom of movement and access to certain officials and groups.

"Until that happens, we are going to take some actions that will ... go some ways toward leveling the playing field," a senior State Department official, speaking only on background, told reporters.

"The State Department is going to be requiring that all of the [People's Republic of China] foreign missions—their embassy and their various consulates around the United States—will have to notify the Department of State in advance of official meetings with state officials, official meetings with local and municipal officials, official visits to educational institutions, and official visits to research institutions," the official said.

These restrictions will "basically add a little bit of reciprocity into the way that U.S. diplomats are treated in China as opposed to how Chinese diplomats are able to operate here in the United States of America," the official continued. "Of course, our job as diplomats is to improve mutual understanding, and to do that we need access to, of course, a broad range of stakeholders in the countries that we're assigned to. Unfortunately, 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."

The Trump administration was careful to note that the actions will not limit the ability of Chinese diplomats to meet with individuals inside the United States.

"We're not looking to reduce those interactions at all. So I—the main purpose of this call [with reporters] is basically to make sure that the actions that we're taking are not, in fact, misconstrued," the official said. "Instead, what we're trying to accomplish here is just to, I guess, get closer to a reciprocal situation, hopefully with the desired end effect of having the Chinese government provide greater access to our diplomats in China."

Only Chinese diplomats will be forced to report their actions to the State Department. The new directive will not impact any of the American stakeholders who take meetings with these officials.

"Our goal is to get the Chinese authorities to allow our diplomats in China to engage with provincial and local leaders, Chinese universities, and other educational and research institutes freely, the same way that the Chinese diplomats are able to do here," the State Department official said.

The State Department declined to tell reporters what consequences Chinese diplomats would face if they failed to inform the Trump administration about their actions.

The State Department estimates that Chinese diplomats take at least 50 meetings a week, though a precise accounting could not be provided at the time of the press briefing.

The action follows numerous complaints issued by the Trump administration to China about restrictions on American diplomats.

"We're not even at the level where the Chinese are, but we're hopeful that if we can get their attention, that we might be able to effect a more level playing field where both their diplomats here and our diplomats there are able to have much more free and open access to all the various stakeholders that are required to do a good job as a diplomat," according to the State Department official.