WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department denied a newspaper report on Wednesday that Washington could respond to a series of Chinese diplomatic snubs by making it more difficult for senior Chinese officials to secure visas.
"The U.S. has not contemplated, nor is it considering any changes to our visa policies in China," State Department spokeswomanDarragh Paradiso said by telephone.
"As in other countries, the U.S. embassy and consulates in China process visas following strict criteria and in accordance with U.S. law."
The report appeared in theFinancial Times as two days of Chinese-U.S. talks on human rights were due to get under way in Beijing. China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday warned against using human rights disputes as "an excuse to interfere in China's domestic affairs."
The Financial Times quoted a U.S. official as saying Washington could toughen visa procedures in response to China's cancellation of bilateral meetings. The cancellations coincide with a crackdown on dissent in China that has drawn criticism from Washington.
"Given the current climate of canceled meetings and canceled U.S. funded programs in China, we are reviewing our procedures for approving visas for Chinese officials and their families," the unidentified U.S. official said.
The newspaper said such a measure would overturn a system of expedited visas for top officials, executives of state companies and children of party leaders, many of whom study at prestigious U.S. universities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this month she was "deeply concerned" about a crackdown on dissent, including the detention of artist and rights activist Ai Weiwei.
Chinese authorities have launched a crackdown to prevent any campaign mirroring the uprisings in the Arab world.
Human rights groups have denounced moves to jail, detain or place in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters. Security forces have turned out in force to stop any attempt to stage rallies.
The Financial Times said Beijing had canceled academic and cultural programs hosted by the United States after outgoing ambassador Jon Huntsman was photographed in February in the capital where Internet sites had called for a demonstration to support a "jasmine revolution."
It said the Communist Party had also ordered provincial bosses to cancel meetings with the ambassador over the past two months.
Huntsman has been forthright in calling on Chinese authorities to uphold human rights commitments.