HONG KONG (Kyodo) -- U.S. diplomats in Hong Kong must first obtain approval of the Chinese Foreign Ministry if they wish to meet with Hong Kong government personnel, as a retaliatory measure put in place by China, local media reported Monday.
The new rule is a response to Washington's earlier decision to limit the movement of Chinese envoys in the United States, according to the South China Morning Post.
"An internal document seen by the Post stated that 'the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, his successors, or any personnel working on his behalf, must first obtain approval from the Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Commissioner in Hong Kong before visiting any Chinese local government facilities or meeting personnel from these institutions," the report said.
Requisite approval would be needed for official, private, social and video meetings as well as meetings with any Chinese public or private education organization or society and its personnel, it added.
Tensions between China and the United States have escalated as the Chinese consulate in Houston was ordered to close in July over Beijing's alleged spying activities.
In retaliation, the Chinese government requested the United States shut its equivalent liaison office in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that senior Chinese diplomats in the United States must get State Department approval to visit U.S. university campuses and to meet with local government officials.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian countered that Beijing would impose "reciprocal restrictions" on all U.S. embassies and consulates on Chinese soil, including the consulate in Hong Kong.
The news report also quoted a U.S. State Department spokesman for saying that Beijing's decision further proved Beijing's evisceration of the city's autonomy and the destruction of the framework that had allowed it to flourish for so many years.
It was not known when was the restriction imposed or how long will it last, but legislator Felix Chung from the pro-business Liberal Party has confirmed that the Foreign Ministry told him two weeks ago it was not an appropriate time for him to meet with the top U.S. envoy, who had sought a meetup.