The US State Department has axed five exchange programs with Beijing branding them as instruments of propaganda as relations between the states continues to deteriorate.

The cancelled programs are 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.

These “one-way” programs were funded and run by Beijing as “soft power propaganda tools,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. 

They provide carefully curated access to Chinese Communist Party officials, not to the Chinese people, who do not enjoy freedoms of speech and assembly.

The affected programs were ostensibly set up to foster bilateral ties and better understanding between Beijing and Washington.

For example, the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program is operated by the US-China Policy Foundation that was launched in 1995. It allows for short tours of US officials across China in order to provide them with “firsthand insight into the significant issues” between the states, according to the program’s website.

In August 2019, a group of American congressional staffers visited Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming, the capital of the southwestern Yunnan province, where they met with various Chinese state officials, diplomats and academics, and did some sightseeing. A similar trip was conducted in April 2019, when a US delegation visited Beijing and the Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

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The relations between China and the US have deteriorated significantly during the Donald Trump administration as the nations clashed over tariffs, military posturing in the South China Sea, and Washington’s open support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The US also accused Beijing of using Chinese-owned telecoms companies, such as Huawei, to spy on Americans. The White House has taken steps to push Huawei out of the US market and has been pressuring its European allies to do the same. In a similar fashion, Trump threatened to ban Chinese-owned TikTok video-sharing app and instant messaging app WeChat unless their ownership model is changed in the US. Beijing, for its part, has repeatedly denied it was using telecoms companies for illegal surveillance and espionage.

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