People waiting to apply for visas sit outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing May 3, 2011. China has joined governments hailing the…
FILE - People waiting to apply for visas sit outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, May 3, 2011.

As tensions between Beijing and Washington have worsened over the past year, U.S. officials have tightened visa restrictions, kicking out hundreds of Chinese researchers accused of hiding military ties and branding some Chinese technology companies security threats.

While China calls the moves part of a “deep-rooted Cold War mentality,” U.S. supporters of the moves see them as a course correction in response to Chinese President Xi Jinping's abuse of U.S. policies encouraging trade and academic ties.

The latest measure came last week, when the State Department tightened travel visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, allowing only one-month single-entry visas where 10-year multiple-entry visas were previously allowed. U.S. officials said the measure was needed to “protect our nation from the CCP's malign influence,” while the Chinese Foreign Ministry called it "an escalation of political suppression by some extreme anti-China forces in the U.S."

FILE - IBM employee Yang Bo shakes hands with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after being the first Chinese citizen to be issued a 10-year visa, at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Nov. 12, 2014.

Just a few years ago, the U.S. eased restrictions on Chinese travel to the U.S., seeking in part to capitalize on a growing tourism sector fueled by China’s expanding middle class. In 2014, Chinese travelers — CCP members or not — became eligible for multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years, with stays of six months allowed for each entry. China reciprocated, but with exceptions.

“Frankly, Chinese scholars were easily able to obtain a 10-year tourist visa and use those to come to the United States, but Americans like me, scholars who work at think tanks, could only get single-entry visas and go to China for a week at most,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CCP criticism a factor

Professor Perry Link of the University of California-Riverside, told VOA that “the CCP has blocked some Americans because the Americans have criticized the CCP, while the U.S. government has never blocked people because they criticize a political party.”

Link was permanently blacklisted by Beijing in 1996 for translating into English a compilation of secret Chinese government documents concerning the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

China critic and Fox News contributor Gordon Chang agreed that reciprocity was never even-keeled.

“The most important thing is that the United States is demanding reciprocity from China because Chinese citizens, whether they're Communist Party members or not, travel to the U.S. with many fewer restrictions than Americans do in China,” said Chang, who in 2001 authored “The Coming Collapse of China.”

FILE - People remove bags from inside the Chinese Consulate to load into a van in Houston, July 23, 2020.

The Trump administration has clamped down in 2020, classifying more than a dozen Chinese media outlets as foreign missions, ordering the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston, arresting Chinese researchers who concealed their affiliation with the Chinese Liberation Army, and restricting student visas for Chinese citizens studying in certain tech sectors with potential national security applications.

Uighurs, Hong Kong law

In addition, Washington has already imposed travel bans and sanctions on officials connected to the crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang, as well as on Chinese and Hong Kong officials it accuses of restricting political rights in the semiautonomous island through the new National Security Law for Hong Kong.

The United States in October imposed a broad immigration ban on CCP members, blocking them from becoming U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Chang argues for a complete ban on CCP members. “The Communist Party has made it clear that they seek the destruction of the United States, so I don't see why we should be allowing their members in the U.S,” he told VOA.

Glaser doubted the policy is going to have much impact. She said that apart from being put in place by an outgoing administration — she expects a policy review by the incoming Biden administration — severely restricting people-to-people exchanges isn't in the interest of either nation.

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets visa applicants at the U.S. Embassy Consular Section in Beijing, Dec. 4, 2013.

“I doubt that this particular policy will be reviewed in isolation,” she said. “Rather, I think there will be discussions between the United States and China about visa restrictions on journalists, visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party members, and how we go about creating more reciprocity.”

Link agreed that the CCP will come back to negotiate but stressed that "the Biden people would need to be involved in the negotiation and would need to be as firm as the Trump people are."

The incoming administration has signaled that President-elect Joe Biden plans to reverse many of President Donald Trump’s tightened immigration and visa policies, although it remains unclear whether that will include loosening visa restrictions for Chinese citizens.

This story originated in VOA's Mandarin Service.