China slams US restrictions on Chinese diplomats as ‘groundless’

Chairman of the US-China Business Council, Evan Greenberg (left), attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 17, 2019. — AFP pic
Chairman of the US-China Business Council, Evan Greenberg (left), attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 17, 2019. — AFP pic

BEIJING, Oct 17 — China today slammed as “groundless” a US decision to order Chinese diplomats to notify the State Department before meeting with local officials, in the latest spat to strain bilateral relations.

Washington — which called the move “reciprocal” — announced the decision yesterday in response to the inability of US diplomats to meet with a range of Chinese officials and academics, a senior State Department official said, speaking anonymously.

“What the US has said about China restricting the activities of US diplomats is simply groundless,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, adding that China “consistently supported” US diplomats in the country.

“We urge the US to correct its mistakes, revoke the relevant decision, and provide support and convenience for Chinese diplomats in the US... rather than artificially setting up barriers,” he told reporters at a press briefing in Beijing.

The move comes as Washington and Beijing — the world’s two largest economies — are locked in a bitter trade dispute.

A partial deal is now being put in writing, President Donald Trump said yesterday, while Beijing said both sides were working towards “an early agreement”.

“Unfortunately in China, US diplomats do not have unfettered access to a range of folks that are important for us to do our job there,” the US official told reporters.

“That includes local and provincial level officials, academic institutions, research institutes,” the official said. “We have to seek permission and such permission is often denied.”

Chinese diplomats will henceforth be required to tell the State Department in advance of any official meetings with US diplomats, local or municipal officials, and before any visits to colleges or research institutions.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is just to get closer to a reciprocal situation,” the official said, emphasising that Chinese diplomats were not being asked to get “permission” for their visits.

The official said he hoped the measure would prompt Beijing to open up its own country a bit more to US diplomats.

The US and China are also at odds over intellectual property rights and human rights questions including freedom of speech. — AFP

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