The bluntest comments came Thursday from the British ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, who alleged that U.S. embassy staff in China had already been attacked. Mr. Darroch said, “The UK is aware of dozens of incidents in which Chinese government personnel have physically threatened to assault U.S. diplomats. In some cases, Chinese government officials have physically attacked U.S. diplomats. We have raised these incidents with senior Chinese officials, including our national security advisor and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton, in numerous meetings.”
He also added that Chinese visitors to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were “suspected of conducting secret backchannel negotiations with North Korea” while “under the protection of Chinese intelligence and security services.”
The British ambassador’s assertion was almost certainly a response to U.S. allegations that Chinese government officials had tried to pressure Mr. Trump to delay a visit by British Prime Minister Theresa May because of China’s leadership of the G-20 and UN Security Council. A senior official said this week that Chinese officials made a “very clear” and “concerted” effort to dissuade Mr. Trump from inviting Mrs. May.
The United States has also accused China of forcing U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The dispute over intellectual property and trade secrets has hampered U.S.-China trade talks.
On Thursday, American officials said they had shared what they described as evidence from six separate incidents with Chinese authorities. They provided the first accounts from American officials regarding the incidents, saying they were told by Chinese government officials of the assaults.
“U.S. personnel on the ground in China have confirmed their accounts, and we have filed a formal diplomatic complaint,” said a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One U.S. official said the Trump administration believed the Chinese government was to blame for some incidents, but not all of them. The official said China had not explained why some attacks were carried out by local residents rather than Chinese government workers.
One U.S. official, who also declined to be identified, described the surveillance efforts as “creepy.” “As of yet, it’s highly unclear why they’re doing this,” he said. “It’s not to deny Americans access, it’s to make it harder for them to be seen and harder for them to be spoken to.”