The US is imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials involved in Tibet policy, in the latest rise in tension with Beijing as the Trump administration increasingly uses immigration measures as a tool to target China.
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, said the US was introducing another set of visa restrictions on Chinese officials because Beijing was obstructing the ability of American tourists, journalists and diplomats to visit Tibet.
“I am announcing visa restrictions on PRC [People’s Republic of China] government and Chinese Communist party officials determined to be substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to [the] Tibetan area,” Mr Pompeo said.
He said China “continued systematically to obstruct travel” to Tibet while Chinese officials and citizens “enjoy far greater access to the US”.
The move to restrict visas follows similar US efforts in recent weeks to punish Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and over the imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong.
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it would limit visas of US officials who engaged in “vile acts” regarding Tibet. It did not specify which actions or officials would be targeted.
The ministry added that 500 diplomats and 343 foreign journalists had visited the region from 2015 to 2018.
“Imposing visa restrictions seems to be the ‘go to’ option for the Trump administration,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “So far, the names of those affected haven’t been made public, which dilutes the impact.”
The restrictions are just one component of the increasingly tough stance that the Trump administration is taking against China over everything from trade and economic issues to foreign policy and cyber espionage.
Military tensions have also risen in recent days as the US dispatched two aircraft carrier groups to the South China Sea for the first time since 2014, in a move that came as China conducted military exercises in the area.
The state department would not say if it had compiled a list of officials who would be hit by the restrictions. “Visa records are confidential under US law, therefore we cannot discuss or disclose individual applications of this policy, including the names of individuals subject to restrictions,” it said.
Two weeks ago the US said it would impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials involved in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. The move came as China was preparing to impose a draconian security law on Hong Kong aimed at stamping out the pro-democracy movement in the territory.
Washington has also imposed restrictions on Chinese officials involved in formulating policy for Xinjiang, the northwestern province of China where more than 1m Muslim Uighur Chinese are being held in detention camps.
Mr Trump has repeatedly attacked China in recent months, blaming Beijing for the global spread of Covid-19, particularly as he has come under harsh criticism over his handling of the pandemic. Most China experts in the US expect that tensions between Washington and Beijing will escalate in the months leading up to the presidential election in November.