The United States on Wednesday imposed new restrictions on China, barring its officials from visiting American universities or meeting local government officials without approval from the State Department, The Guardian reported.

The State Department said the decision was in response to restrictions imposed on American officials in China. The move was also a part of the US administration’s campaign against alleged Chinese influence operations and espionage activity in the country, Reuters reported.

“We’re simply demanding reciprocity,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news briefing. “Access for our diplomats in China should be reflective of the access that Chinese diplomats in the United States have, and today’s steps will move us substantially in that direction,” he said.

Further, Chinese diplomats will need to seek the US government’s approval for holding cultural events outside their consulates or embassy with more than 50 people.

The Chinese embassy in Washington called the sanctions “yet another unjustified restriction and barrier on Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel” that “runs counter to the self-proclaimed values of openness and freedom of the US side”.

The US and China have locked horns over a variety of issues, including the spread of the coronavirus, trade deals, Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Both countries have already shut down major consulates and tightened restrictions on journalists. American journalists from news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have already been forced to leave China. Similarly, the US has asked Chinese media outlets to register as foreign missions and announced in March that it was reducing the number of scribes allowed to work at US offices of major Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160.

The State Department has also said it will make sure that social media accounts of Chinese diplomats are “properly identified”.

Keith Krach, the State Department’s undersecretary for economic growth, had recently written to the governing boards of US universities, warning them about the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party, Pompeo said.

“These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students and opaque talent recruitment efforts,” Pompeo said.

He further hoped that Chinese Confucius Institute cultural centres on US university campuses would be shut down by the end of the year. The centres were working to recruit “spies and collaborators”, according to Pompeo.

On August 6, US President Donald Trump had signed an executive order barring transactions with Chinese companies ByteDance and WeChat. The order will come into effect 45 days from the day it was signed.