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U.S. Calls Beijing ‘Thuggish Regime’ for ‘Harassing’ American Diplomat Who Met Pro-Democracy Activists

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The State Department Thursday accused the Chinese government of leaking personal information about a U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong, including the names of her children.

Pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao published details about the U.S. consular official after she reportedly met with advocates of the protest movement that has gripped Hong Kong for nine consecutive weeks.

“I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children, I don’t think that is a formal protest, that is what a thuggish regime would do,” Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson, said at a press conference in Washington.

Ortagus did not name the diplomat or elaborate on what details were allegedly leaked.

According to the Ta Kung Pao‘s account, Julie Eadeh, a political counselor at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, met with pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law in the lobby of a hotel in the city. The article attempted to use the encounter to illustrate Beijing’s narrative that “foreign forces,” particularly U.S. politicians, are stoking the protest movement, which has proved a formidable challenge to the central government’s authority.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs already said it had summoned an officer at the U.S. Consulate over the meeting. In a statement, it said it had lodged lodged “stern representations.”

“I’m taking issue with the Chinese saying they issued a formal protest when in fact they harassed an American diplomat,” Ortagus said at the press conference. Ortagus added that in meeting with opposition figures Eadeh was “doing her job and we commend her for her work.”

“This is what not only American diplomats do, this is what other countries’ diplomats do.”

The diplomatic spat comes as Hong Kong gears up for yet another weekend of protests. What began as a series of marches against a now-suspended extradition law has since snowballed into a larger anti-government campaign, calling for greater democracy and rebelling against China’s control over the enclave.

Earlier this week, China’s top policy official in Hong Kong denounced foreign involvement in the protests, and even called out Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence by name.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing are already soaring over a blistering trade war that does not appear to be tapering off any time soon. President Donald Trump however, has said that Hong Kong’s unrest is an issue “between Hong Kong and China.”

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Write to Amy Gunia / Hong Kong at amy.gunia@time.com