Beijing on Thursday pushed back a US decision to revoke visas for more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers who the American government believed posed a security risk or had ties to the Chinese military.
There was prejudice behind the visa decision, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
The move was “outright political persecution and racial discrimination, which have seriously violated the human rights of Chinese students,” he said in a press conference Thursday, according to the state-run Global Times.
Beijing also warned against retaining the right to take further action, but did not elaborate.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Chief Chad Wolf accused China of abusing student visas to exploit American science when he made the visa announcement on Wednesday, saying China is trying to steal coronavirus research.
In July, the Justice Department announced charges against two Chinese nationals – both in China – for hacking governments, dissidents and private companies, including those involved in COVID-19 vaccine research. The indictment stated that the hackers were operating for their own benefit as well as for the main Chinese intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security.
China has denied the allegations.
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The visa measure was taken as part of a proclamation by President Donald Trump on May 29 in response to China’s restriction on Hong Kong’s autonomy, a State Department spokeswoman told Reuters.
The proclamation, which went into effect June 1, is aimed at an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people affiliated with universities or institutions in China who, according to the United States, wish to acquire foreign technology for the benefit of the Chinese military.
Chinese students make up the majority of the international students in the United States. Every year around 360,000 American schools attend and generate around $ 14 billion in college revenues – even though the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected return to campus in the fall.
Relations between China and the US have sunk to new lows in recent months, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over trade and human rights issues as far as Hong Kong and the coronavirus.
Trump, who touted amicable relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, made tough on China an important part of his November 3 re-election campaign and accused his Democratic opponent Joe Biden of being “gentle” on Beijing.
China’s youngest newspaper, People’s Daily, refused to publish a statement from the US Ambassador to China on Wednesday because the article did not meet his standards.
Reuters contributed to this report.