Senior Chinese diplomats will be required to seek approval from the State Department before visiting American university campuses or holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press release on Wednesday.

Pompeo presented the new restrictions as a response to Beijing’s policies toward US diplomats. There, he said US officials face a “system of opaque approval processes,” designed to prevent them from “conducting regular business and connecting with the Chinese people.” Until now, Pompeo said that Chinese diplomats in the US were granted “open access to American society.” 

In addition, the secretary of state announced that all Chinese embassy and consular social media accounts will need to be labeled as People’s Republic of China government accounts.

The restrictions likely go beyond simple reciprocity. After a group of Chinese researchers were arrested this summer for allegedly hiding their links with the Chinese military, Pompeo described the Chinese Communist Party of attempting to slip its “tentacles” into American universities. Simultaneously, the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, with Pompeo describing the consulate as “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” and accusing its staff of working to hide the military ties of Chinese researchers in Texan universities.

Beijing denied the accusations, and shuttered a US consulate in Chengdu in response.

The new restrictions also come a day after Pompeo told Fox News’ Lou Dobbs that he hopes to shut down the Beijing-funded Confucius Institute centers on American campuses by the end of the year. As of 2019, there were 530 such institutes worldwide. Billed as facilitators of cultural exchange and language learning, Pompeo described them instead as recruitment centers for “spies and collaborators.” 

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