Earlier this week, the New York Times reported (porous paywall):
As many as 30 Chinese professors in the social sciences, heads of academic institutes, and experts who help explain government policies have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts.
China is now retaliating, as the Chinese consulate in Washington declined to issue a visa to Michael Pillsbury, according to Axios:
Pillsbury was due to participate in a conference in Beijing last Sunday hosted by the Center for China and Globalization. He was also invited to an event at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing hosted by Ambassador Terry Branstad.
Pillsbury told Axios he applied for a visa at the Chinese consulate in Washington three weeks prior to his trip but the Chinese sat on his application, and he has not yet received his passport back. (The visa was neither approved nor denied, but the result was the same: he couldn't travel to China for the conference.)
He said he reached out to a well-connected Chinese contact seeking information about what was going on, and the contact pointed him to an article published Sunday in the New York Times about the U.S. blocking visits from Chinese scholars due to concerns about espionage.
It makes sense to view this as retaliation, and there’s more where that came from, the editor of nationalistic rag Global Times, Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, tweeted:
China declined to issue a visa to Michael Pillsbury. Many people linked it to a large number of Chinese scholars whose US’ visas were canceled. It is logic to observe it this way. Personally, I also believe there will be other American scholars who could be denied Chinese visa. https://t.co/Lpzd297tRW
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) April 18, 2019
Another expert who was listed on the agenda for the same conference, former U.S. Trade Representative official Wendy Cutler, also had her visa declined, but she did not respond to Axios’s request for comment on her case.
Pillsbury’s visa denial is especially significant because he has been repeatedly referred to by President Trump as “the leading authority on China.” (Many China scholars disagree that his work leads in the field.)
The visa denial of Trump’s favorite China scholar also comes at a precarious moment: According to the Wall Street Journal (paywall) and Bloomberg (porous paywall), American and Chinese trade negotiators are optimistic about reaching a deal to end the trade war by early May. According to some sources, a deal could be signed “as soon as Memorial Day,” or May 27.
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—Lucas Niewenhuis, Associate Editor