China on Wednesday tightened rules for issuing visas to U.S. citizens in retaliation against Washington's insistence on fingerprinting Chinese travelers to the U.S.
The new measures, which include requiring diplomats travelling for personal reasons to apply for an ordinary visa as well as face-to-face interviews for some applicants, come amid recent frictions between Beijing and Washington over human rights and trade.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it was acting in response to Washington's refusal to respond to its representations over plans to fingerprint most Chinese visitors — a measure that Chinese state newspapers have angrily denounced as "discriminatory".
China said last week the U.S. move infringes its nationals' personal dignity, privacy and human rights.
Observers in Beijing said the retaliatory measures, which also include a ban on the issuing of visas for U.S. citizens on arrival, were unlikely to seriously disrupt exchanges between the two sides.
They said Chinese leaders were more concerned by the impact on business of tougher visa policies introduced by the U.S. as part of its attempts to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.
Even senior officials in some of China's biggest companies now sometimes have to attend face-to-face interviews before routine business visits to the U.S.
However, Beijing's visa moves may worsen the already tense relation between the two countries due to recent disputes on issues ranging from China's tax concessions for locally based semiconductor companies to longstanding U.S. criticism of Beijing's human rights record.
China last week broke off a dialogue with the U.S. on human rights to protest a decision by Washington to sponsor a resolution attacking China's record at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Chinese state media have accused the U.S. of using this issue in a "cold war" campaign to "sully China's image, damage China's stability and curb China's development".
However, attempts by China to burnish its image with a report this week hailing recent legal changes and rising living standards is unlikely to have that effect.
The release of the annual human rights white paper by China's cabinet coincided with the reported detention of at least three relatives of people killed by the Chinese military during the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.