Washington denounced decades-old programs to send US government employees to China as propaganda "disguised as cultural exchanges." The US will also sanction Chinese officials for "coercive influencing."
The US State Department said Friday it was terminating five Chinese-funded exchange programs with the United States, calling them propaganda tools for Beijing.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the schemes that allow American government employees to travel to China and Hong Kong using foreign government funds were "disguised as cultural exchanges."
"They provide carefully curated access to Chinese Communist Party officials, not to the Chinese people, who do not enjoy freedoms of speech and assembly," he said.
Pompeo's statement added: "The United States welcomes the reciprocal and fair exchange of cultural programs with PRC officials and the Chinese people, but one-way programs such as these are not mutually beneficial."
The programs affected are the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program, the US-China Friendship Program, the US-China Leadership Exchange Program, the US-China Transpacific Exchange Program and the Hong Kong Educational and Cultural Program.
The schemes were set up under a 1961 law signed by US President John F. Kennedy and aimed at boosting academic and cultural exchanges with foreign countries.
Also Friday, Washington imposed new sanctions on Chinese officials for allegedly participating in coercive influence activities around the world.
Pompeo said that those officials who have engaged in a variety of activities, from physical violence to espionage, to exert influence outside of China's borders would face visa restrictions.
"These malign activities are intended to co-opt and coerce subnational leaders, overseas Chinese communities, academia, and other civil society groups both in the United States and other countries in furtherance of the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian narratives and policy preferences," Pompeo said in a statement.
The names of the individuals targeted by the new sanctions were not released.
However, Pompeo said the sanctions would extend to individuals active in United Front Work Department, an agency within the Chinese Communist Party known for working outside China.
US-China relations have nosedived over concerns that the rise of the Asian powerhouse is increasingly malign.
Under outgoing President Donald Trump, the US launched a trade war with Beijing, continued challenging Beijing's territorial ambitions in disputed Asian waters, criticized its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and condemned China's handling of the initial coronavirus outbreak for the now-global pandemic.
On Thursday, US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal calling China — rather than Russia — the "greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since World War II."
He said China was obsessed with world domination and that Washington should be ready for an “open-ended period of confrontation.”
Beijing hit back, describing the article as a "concoction of lies."
During a panel discussion at the Aspen Institute's virtual Cyber Summit this week, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina, said that China has already started targeting President-elect Joe Biden and his team.
mm/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)