MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon and thank you for joining us for this on-background conference call on reciprocal action regarding Chinese diplomats in the United States.
The State Department officials joining us today are [Senior State Department Official One]. He will be referred to as Senior State Department Official Number One in the transcript. And also with us is [Senior State Department Official Two]. He’ll be referenced as Senior State Department Official Number Two.
Again, this call is on background and is embargoed until the end of the call. I would like to now turn it over to [Senior State Department Official One], who will open things up, and then we’ll take questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. I wanted to give you guys a heads-up on some actions that we are taking here at the State Department to 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. 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. That includes local and provincial-level officials, academic institutions, research institutes, so on and so forth.
In contrast, PRC diplomats stationed here in the United States are, of course, able to take full advantage of our open society to meet with a whole range of Americans. Now we’re not looking to reduce those interactions at all. So I – the main purpose of this call is basically to make sure that the actions that we’re taking are not, in fact, misconstrued. 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.
Until that happens, we are going to take some actions that will, like I said, go some ways toward leveling the playing field. So starting from today, the State Department is going to be requiring that all of the PRC 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.
Now, I want to be very, very clear on this point. We absolutely value educational and cultural exchange. We absolutely encourage state and local officials, as well as educational and research institutions, to meet with and host foreign officials as they deem appropriate. We are not requiring that any Chinese official get permission from the State Department to have any of these sorts of meetings. We’re merely asking that they notify us in advance of such meetings – which, again, that’s different from what happens many times in China, where our diplomats are forced to seek permission and are often denied such permission.
Also worth noting here that we’re not placing the onus of this notification requirement on any of the U.S. stakeholders. State, local, educational officials – none of them have to take any actions whatsoever. The full onus will fall on the Chinese consulates and embassy to notify us in advance of meetings with these stakeholders.
Again, just to reiterate, this action is a response to what the PRC government does to limit the interactions our diplomats can have in China with Chinese stakeholders. 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.
Thanks for letting me start off with those remarks, and I guess we can turn it over to the Q&A now.
OPERATOR: First question comes from the line of Bingru Wang. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. I just – I’m wondering. You mentioned that this is not the U.S. is seeking for permission, it’s not ask the Chinese to seek for permission, but just require them to notify the United States State Department. And then what’s the consequence if they don’t do this? Are you going to take any action against them? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We certainly expect that they will comply fully comply with the requirement, and if they fail to comply, then we will address that at that time.
QUESTION: Could you please specify what consequences they may face?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Adam Behsudi. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just had a question about the timing of why this action is being taken now. Is it – is there any relation to the broader sort of administration’s policy on China with regards to trade and human rights and other issues? Is this part of a broad – the broader package of actions being taken against China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, thanks for that question. Listen, this thing has been sort of in the works for some time. It’s not directly linked to any other part of the relationship. What I will tell you is across a broad range of the U.S.-China relationship – and there are many aspects where this administration is vigorously seeking to level the playing field. You say that in trade and any number of other areas. This is another one of those areas where for a number of years, many, many years, there’s a clear gap between the way our U.S. diplomats are able to do their job in China versus the liberties that Chinese diplomats posted here in the United States are able to do their job.
We’re not looking – our final objective is absolutely not to restrict their access to any stakeholders here. What we’re looking to do is impose a little bit of reciprocity. And again, 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.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Matthew Lee. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi there. I realize that since this requirement hasn’t been around, you may not know the answer to this. But do – can you give me a rough idea of how many – roughly how many meetings this would – I mean, it sounds to me like if these things are very frequent, that the Office of Foreign Missions is going to have a hell of a lot more paperwork to deal with. I’m just curious, is it hundreds? Are there thousands of meetings that you expect will have to be notified?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The – we will – we don’t have an answer today. Thus far, we’ve received our one notification, but we will – we’ll certainly see where this goes. We expect that there would be probably 50 a week. That’s just speculation, but we don’t know. But we are prepared to handle all the notifications that we receive.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry, you said that – so you’ve already gotten one notification already just today? When – and when were the Chinese told about this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They – they were apprised of this the past week.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Your next question comes from Joel Gehrke. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I just wondered is there any relationship between this decision and some of the concerns that we’ve heard from the Pentagon in particular? In their Report on Military Power earlier this year, they mentioned a – there was a special topic in that report focused on Chinese influence operations in the country, and I believe that the State Department said at the time that there was concern about Chinese officials cultivating influence among state and local actors. Do you expect this to give you visibility into those efforts at all or key any counter-efforts?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Look, this particular effort is aimed at one thing, and that’s achieving reciprocity. We would like to have much greater access for our diplomats in China. Again, as I said earlier, I mean, in any number of areas we’re looking to level the playing field here with China. This is certainly related to many other things going on in the relationship, but separate. I think I’ll leave it at that.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And next we’ll go to the line of Josh Rogin. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, guys. Thanks for doing the call. I guess I assume that if you’ve taken this action, your efforts to diplomatically engage the Chinese Government on this issue have not borne fruit. Can you talk about those efforts, and what did they say when you asked them just to do it, and what made you conclude that those efforts now require actual action? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, great question. Look, we’ve been complaining informally and through formal channels to the Chinese for years now about limits on access of U.S. diplomats to various stakeholders in and around China – sorry, in China. I would say that the Chinese response is we give you access when it’s appropriate, and that clearly is not something that goes down well with us. We have not – as a matter of policy, we have never done anything to limit their access to stakeholders here in the United States, and we continue not to do that. We’re, again, only seeking notification. But we do think that after our complaints went unanswered for so long, that it was time for us to take some measures to let them know that we intend to do what we can to make this a bit more reciprocal. If this action has its intended results, these requirements and the requirements on U.S. diplomats in China would both be disbanded, and diplomats in both countries would be able to do their work much more freely.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And next we’ll go to the line of Nick Schifrin. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing the call. Just to clarify one thing about Matt’s earlier question, I just wanted to make sure that you got one notification, whether that was today or in the last couple of days, if you could just elucidate that.
The main question, though, is kind of a follow-up to Josh’s. Why do you believe that restricting their access in the U.S. is the best way to achieve more access in China? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We received the notification that I referenced earlier today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the second part of your question, we’re not looking to restrict their access. Again, I want to be crystal clear on this, so I’m glad you raised this again. We are not seeking any of the PRC diplomats posted in the United States to come to us and ask for permission to go to a university or to meet with a mayor or a state government official. We’re merely asking them to notify us beforehand. In China, U.S. diplomats have to seek permission, and such permission is frequently denied.
So I wanted to be really, really clear about that. We are not restricting access the Chinese diplomats have and have enjoyed for many years here in the United States. We’re merely seeking – we’re merely requiring them to notify. That said, notification is a – it’s a – it does place a little bit of a sort of a paperwork burden on them, and I think that, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve been complaining about this unfair treatment for many, many years to no effect. We’re hoping that by taking this action we might help convince the Chinese that we’re serious about achieving more reciprocity in this aspect of the relationship.
OPERATOR: Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Nick Wadhams. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much. Could you just tell us if this initiative originated in the State Department or the White House or some other agency? Whose idea was this originally? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, measures like this are always considered interagency, and I don’t want to go any further into it than that.
OPERATOR: Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Wen Checo. Please, go ahead.
You may have your line on mute.
And next we’ll go to the line of David Brunnstrom. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello? Yeah, can you hear me? Hello?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah, I just – the line garbled when you were listing the circumstances in which Chinese diplomats would require permissions. It was for meeting with state officials, education and research institutes, and one other, which we didn’t catch.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So, to again clarify that they – we’re not requiring them to get our permission. We are requiring them to notify us.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Notification, yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So the categories are: they need to notify us of official meetings with representatives of state, local, and municipal governments; official visits to educational institutions; and official visits to research institutions; all in the United States. That’s it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you, and next we’ll go to Nike Ching. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Thank you very much for this call. I would like to ask the numbers of Chinese diplomats in the United States who will be affected by today’s measures. And does today’s measure also include Chinese officials traveling to the United States in the name of touring, but in fact, conducting official business, such as attempts to repatriate Chinese nationals? And separately, after today’s announcement, can we rule out the prospect that the annual U.S.-China diplomatic and security dialogue – as well as other dialogues such as enforcement and cybersecurity and social and cultural issues dialogue – will be put on hold? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To your latter part of your question, this has nothing to do with any of the dialogues that you just mentioned – no connection whatsoever, separate initiatives.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And no impact.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, none whatsoever.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: As far as the numbers, this requirement is in effect for all members of Chinese foreign missions here in the United States as well as any Chinese Government officials traveling to U.S. for official business.
QUESTION: I see. Now may I – if I may, China is reportedly claiming to restrict visas for U.S. nationals with the so-called anti-China links. I would like to get your response on that. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sorry, that’s a separate issue, and not related to this in any way whatsoever, so not going to be able to help you on that one.
MODERATOR: Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Next we’ll go to the line of Georgia Shafestern. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: I think that’s Deirdre Shesgreen, and that’s my line. Can you just elaborate on what obstacles U.S. diplomats face in China and how it impedes their ability to work there? I mean, if you have a couple of examples that might be helpful. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I won’t provide specific examples, but I can tell you generically what will frequently happen is a U.S. diplomat based at our embassy or one of our consulates will seek to visit, say, a university or get a meeting with a mayor or a party secretary in a particular province or city. Sometimes those meeting requests are granted, and many times they are not. Of course, it makes it very tough for us to do our job if we’re prevented from meeting with Chinese stakeholders. But that’s a very common occurrence for our staff all around China.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And next we’ll go to the line of Matthew Russell Lee. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask if this, in your view, it will have any impact on diplomats at the United Nations. There’s been some – at least a couple of cases of Chinese state enterprises convicted of bribery there, and I wanted to know, does it cover people affiliated with the government? And also, for example, if a Chinese diplomat sought to meet, I don’t know, Mayor de Blasio at the UN, would it cover that, or is that exempt from the coverage of this? And if the notices are subject to FOIA – those are my questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The requirements that we’ve gone over do apply to members of the Chinese permanent mission to the United Nations, as well as all Chinese foreign missions in the United States. And so therefore a meeting with a municipal official, a mayor or otherwise, would require notification.
QUESTION: And are these going to be put online, or otherwise subject to FOIA?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They’re not – they would not be put online. I’m not a FOIA expert, so I can’t address that, but —
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MODERATOR: We can take that as a taken question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And next we’ll go to Bill Gertz. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, I had a question. Two Americans have been detained in Jiangsu Province, and their detention coincided with the FBI’s arrest in New York of a Chinese official on visa fraud charges. Do you have any comment on this? And does this appear to be some type of retaliation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure don’t. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with retaliation for anything other than the treatment of U.S. diplomats over many, many years in China.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And I have no further questions in queue at this time.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I just – before anyone leaves the line, since a couple people have asked this multiple times, we are not restricting Chinese access to stakeholders here in the United States. We are not forcing them to seek permission. We’re merely asking them to notify. A couple people asked questions that seemed to presume that we were in fact going to be deciding yes or no on Chinese requests to meet with various officials. That is not the case. We are merely requiring that they notify us before such meetings. I just wanted to make sure everyone’s got that crystal clear. I would really not want to see any headlines that the U.S. Government is now prohibiting Chinese officials from meeting with mayors or universities. That’s absolutely not the case. They’re still free to meet with all those folks. In fact, we would encourage that. They merely have to notify before they do it now.
MODERATOR: All right. Thanks everyone for joining. I appreciate you being here. Again, this was provided on background, attributions to a senior State Department official. And as the call is concluded, the embargo is lifted. Thank you very much.