Republicans in Congress want to bar Chinese military scientists from obtaining visas to study or work in the United States, drawing criticism Wednesday from Beijing.
Companion bills in the House and Senate would compel the White House to identify a list of research and scientific institutions that the president determines are affiliated with or funded by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
The PLA Visa Security Act introduced Tuesday would prevent people currently or formerly employed or sponsored by such entities from entering the United States on student or research visas.
The legislation landed as the two global powers are locked in a fierce trade showdown that has bruised US-China ties, roiled world markets and led President Donald Trump to boost punitive tariffs on Chinese merchandise imports.
Senator Tom Cotton, a bill co-sponsor, said "keeping PLA scientists out of our research laboratories is a basic act of self-defense."
"Student and research visas ought to be reserved for those foreign nationals who want to contribute to our universities and research institutions, not for our foreign adversaries and spies that wish to do us harm," Senator Chuck Grassley added in a statement.
China's Foreign Ministry said the exchanges are in line with the countries' common interests and should not be politicized.
Washington has "without evidence suspected the motives of Chinese scholars, students, and scientific and technical personnel in the United States, unreasonably restricting and harassing them," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
It was not immediately clear whether the measure would pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but a leadership aide said the issue "ought to be examined."