BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States is “weaponising” visas, having failed to grant visas in time or at all for Chinese space officials for an international event, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, in the latest escalation of tensions between the two countries.
China and the United States are locked in a bitter trade dispute, which they are currently trying to resolve, and also have deep disagreements on many other areas, including human rights, the disputed South China Sea and Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the Chinese delegation had wanted to take part in the ongoing International Astronautical Congress being held in Washington.
China is an important participant in the congress and sends delegations every year, she added. China hosted the congress in 2013. Last year, it was held in Germany.
China had applied for the visas in July, and on Oct. 12 the delegation from the China National Space Administration went for visa interviews at the U.S. embassy, but the head of delegation still did not have his visa as the congress began, Hua said.
“This caused the Chinese delegation to be unable to attend the opening of the International Astronautical Congress,” Hua said.
Several other Chinese delegates also did not get visas, she added.
The U.S. embassy said in a statement to Reuters: “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law. We are unable to discuss individual cases.”
Hua said this issue was just the tip of the iceberg, with the United States stepping up denial, delay or cancellation of visas for Chinese academics, students and scientists.
The United States has also gone against United Nations rules by denying visas for Russians and Iranians to participate there, she added.
“The United States is weaponising the visa issue, repeatedly disregarding its international responsibilities and obstructing normal international exchanges and cooperation.”
China urges the United States to change its ways, Hua said.
Advancing China’s space programme is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power, and apart from its civilian ambitions Beijing has tested anti-satellite missiles.
China insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted its increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Deepa Babington)