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US urges China to alter quarantine rules for diplomats ahead of Olympics, Beijing protests

Tensions between the world's biggest economies mount as China maintains some of the toughest restrictions to push the number of cases near zero, ahead of Olympic Games.

File photo of China President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC | Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Photo
File photo of China President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden | Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Bloomberg

Washington: The Biden administration said it recommended changes to China’s requirements for Covid-19 quarantine and testing among American diplomats, adding to tensions between the world’s biggest economies ahead of the Olympics.

“We have long-standing concerns regarding the PRC’s quarantine and testing policies that run counter to diplomatic privileges and immunities,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday, referring to China’s formal name. “We’ve recommended what we think are a series of reasonable options that would be consistent with Covid-19 mitigation measures and at the same time align with international diplomatic norms.”

The remarks followed a report by CNN saying that officials at the U.S. embassy in Beijing formally asked the State Department to allow American diplomats to leave the country after some diplomats expressed concern over China’s increasingly strict Covid-19 restrictions in recent months.

In a call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. of flouting agreements reached during a November summit between President Joe Biden and counterpart Xi Jinping. The senior Chinese diplomat Wang protested what he said were U.S. efforts to interfere with the Beijing Olympics next week, and also cited U.S. support for Taiwan as well as Washington’s efforts to build “small circles” of like-minded nations to counter Beijing.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested any withdrawal of American envoys or their families would be done to tarnish Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics, which start next week. He said China was one of the safest places in the world to be during the pandemic.

“China’s epidemic prevention and control measures are stringent, thorough and science based,” he said. “Our strategy has proved to be effective and has protected the health of foreigners in China.”

China has maintained some of the world’s toughest restrictions in order to push the number of cases near zero, despite outbreaks in much of the country ahead of next month’s Olympic Games.

Pressed about the CNN report, Price said any personnel decisions would be based on “the health, the safety, the security of our colleagues and their family members.” He repeatedly emphasised that the “operating status” at American facilities in China hasn’t changed.-Bloomberg


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