The State Department announced that it will require all American-based Chinese officials to notify the U.S. of any meetings with state and local governments and educational or research institutions.
U.S. diplomats in China must notify and get approval for any such meeting in China -- a step that the Trump administration is not requiring of Beijing -- and they frequently get denied, the official said.
"What we're trying to accomplish here is just to get closer to a reciprocal situation, hopefully with the desired end effect of having the Chinese government provide greater access to our diplomats in China," they added.
The new rule applies to Chinese diplomats at its embassy in Washington, its five consulates across the country, those at the United Nations in New York and any Chinese officials visiting on official business.
Governors, state representatives, or local mayors and colleges, universities or research institutions will not have to report anything to the U.S. government, according to the official who said the "full onus" will be on the Chinese. They declined to say how many total notifications they expect to receive, but estimated around 50 per week.
The official denied this was tied to any recent event, including trade talks or sanctions over China's crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in its western province Xinjiang.
Instead, the official said, this change had been "in the works for some time" to close a "clear gap" in how China treats U.S. diplomats and the U.S. treats the Chinese after protesting to China for years.
"We do think that after our complaints went unanswered for so long, that it was time for us to take some measures to let them know that we intend to do what we can to make this a bit more reciprocal," they said.
The Chinese embassy called the decision a "violation of the Vienna Convention," which dictates how countries treat each other's diplomatic missions and personnel.
"According to Article 25 of the Vienna Convention, the receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performances of the functions of the mission. But the U.S. side is doing exactly the opposite," the embassy tweeted.
The State Department made clear it was not blocking Chinese officials from any meetings, only requiring advanced notification, although the senior official said, "It does place a little bit of a sort of a paperwork burden on them."
The senior State Department official declined to say what would happen if a Chinese official did not comply.