The US State Department announced on 4 December that it was curtailing five cultural exchange programmes with China, slamming them as "soft power propaganda tools."
The Department said on its website it had "terminated" the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program, the US-China Friendship Program, the US-China Leadership Exchange Program, the US-China Transpacific Exchange Program and the Hong Kong Educational and Cultural Program.
According to the announcement, the programs originally aimed at boosting academic and cultural exchanges with foreign countries were conducted under Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA). The latter was a law signed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.
"While other programmes funded under the auspices of the MECEA are mutually beneficial, the five programmes in question are fully funded and operated by the (Chinese) government as soft power propaganda tools," the statement said.
There has not yet been any official response from the Chinese side.
Neither has there been an official comment yet from representatives for the programmes singled out by the State Department.
The developments came amid a plethora of fresh moves by Washington targeting China. On Friday, the US imposed new sanctions, including visa restrictions, on Chinese officials for allegedly participating in coercive influence activities around the world.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out at the “malign activities” of those officials who purportedly resorted to anything from physical violence to espionage to exert influence outside of China's borders.
"These malign activities are intended to co-opt and coerce subnational leaders, overseas Chinese communities, academia, and other civil society groups both in the United States and other countries in furtherance of the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian narratives and policy preferences," Pompeo said in a statement.
While the names of the officials were not revealed, Pompeo said the sanctions would extend to individuals within the United Front Work Department, an agency within the Chinese Communist Party.
‘Greatest Threat to Democracy’
Earlier, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on 3 December, calling China the "greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since World War II."
In a subsequent interview for Fox News, the DNI Chief warned the purported new administration of the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, to view challenging China as its highest priority.
Following the publication of an op-ed, in a joint statement the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said they agreed with John Ratcliffe’s assessment of the “China threat”, adding:
“Our intelligence is clear: the Chinese Communist Party will stop at nothing to exert its global dominance.”
Beijing was quick to hit back, dismissing the article as a "concoction of lies".
At a regular press briefing on Friday, China’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said the article was “just a sensational headline”.
“We hope that American politicians will respect the facts, stop making and selling fake news, stop fabricating and spreading political viruses and lies, and stop damaging Sino-US relations, otherwise it will only further damage the credibility of the United States,” said the spokesperson.
Rise of an Asian Powerhouse
US-China relations have nosedived over alleged concerns over the rise of the Asian giant.
Under President Donald Trump, the US launched a trade war with Beijing, calling it out over purported unfair trading practices.
It also blacklisting over 70 Chinese tech firms, including Huawei Technologies, ZTE and SMIC in May last year, citing national security concerns over the companies’ alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the military.
Both Huawei and Beijing have since multiple times dismissed the claims, demanding to see evidence, which the US has not submitted to date.