The U.S. government may make it more difficult for China’s ruling elite and their families to receive visas following a series of diplomatic snubs by the Chinese government, according to US officials.
Beijing cancelled several bilateral academic and cultural programmes hosted by the U.S. after Jon Huntsman, Washington’s outgoing ambassador, was photographed in February in the capital near where anonymous internet users had called for a demonstration to support a “jasmine revolution” in China.
While the calls for an uprising along the lines of the Arab spring largely went unheeded, Beijing launched what human rights groups have called the most severe crackdown on dissidents in more than a decade.
Several people familiar with the matter said the ruling Communist party had also ordered provincial bosses to cancel meetings with Mr Huntsman over the past two months.
The snubs have prompted the U.S. to consider counter measures, including a review of the system for granting expedited visas to senior Chinese officials and their families.
“Given the current climate of cancelled meetings and cancelled U.S.-funded programmes in China, we are reviewing our procedures for approving visas for Chinese officials and their families,” said one U.S. official.
The Chinese crackdown has affected negotiations to set the agenda for the two countries’ twice-yearly strategic dialogue in early May in Washington.
Until now, Washington has informally allowed the Chinese foreign ministry to nominate people for expedited visas through a “courtesy channel”. Those nominated include diplomats, senior officials, executives of state enterprises, journalists from state media and children of party leaders.
Many of China’s senior leaders send their children to study at Ivy League universities, including the daughter of vice-president Xi Jinping, expected to be confirmed as head of the Communist party and president of China next year.
She is enrolled under a pseudonym at Harvard University, according to faculty and U.S. officials. Bo Guagua, son of Politburo member Bo Xilai, is at Harvard, as is Chen Xiaodan, whose father, Chen Yuan, is chairman of the China Development Bank.
In his final speech as ambassador this month, Mr Huntsman made pointed comments about Beijing’s reaction to perceived US slights, saying “cancelling meetings as a sign of displeasure will not encourage greater respect for each other’s views”.
“We cannot move forward if, when differences emerge, only one of us is fully committed and fully engaged,” he said.
The U.S. state department said: “U.S. embassies and consulates process visas following strict criteria and in accordance with U.S. law. The U.S. continues to work in China, as in any host country, to ensure that the visa process functions smoothly.”