Chinese and American officials are polishing off scripts for a ritual that is set to unfold in Washington on Monday and Tuesday. During a meeting known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, they will smile across conference tables and talk about cooperating on a range of issues: trade, currency, North Korea. Good will between the United States and China is scarce. At the meetings this week, the Americans are expected to talk bluntly about human rights, while the Chinese government has already increased its criticism of the West, with some officials telling foreign diplomats that they believe the United States is fomenting revolution.
At least 60 activities organized by the United States Embassy in Beijing — including cultural forums, school programs, ambassadorial visits — were canceled between February and April because of interference by the Chinese authorities, and some European missions have been similarly pressured. Several university conferences involving foreigners have been canceled, and the Ministry of Education is stepping up warnings to Chinese scholars heading abroad that they not take part in “anti-China” activities or engage with groups that promote democracy. The scrutiny has applied to some nonprofit groups, too, with several — particularly those that receive financing from the United States government or the European Union — being visited more frequently by tax officials.
At the same time, China has waged its harshest crackdown on liberal speech in years: hundreds of Chinese have been detained, imprisoned, beaten, interrogated or put under house arrest. The government had for years guarded against Western influences, including blocking sites like Twitter and Facebook, but those restrictions have intensified since revolts began sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
The clampdown is concentrated on foreign groups or activities that have significant ties to foreign governments, run prominent outreach programs, encourage free speech or promote Internet freedom. Senior Chinese officials appear to believe that the United States in particular helped set off and sustain the uprisings that toppled dictators in the Arab world. In mid-February, messages appeared on the Chinese Internet calling for people to hold similar protests across the nation. Some of the people spreading word of the so-called Jasmine Revolution are Chinese who live overseas.