State Department advisory removes concerns about COVID lockdowns but warns of rise in ‘wrongful detentions.’
Alex Willemyns for RFA 2023.07.03 — Americans should reconsider any travel to China due to “arbitrary enforcement of local law,” “exit bans” and “wrongful detentions,” the U.S. State Department says in an updated travel advisory.
The update, which is dated Friday, removes concerns about COVID lockdowns but warns of “exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries, without fair and transparent process under the law,” and says there is also a risk of “wrongful detention” of foreign citizens.
“U.S. citizens traveling or residing in the PRC may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime,” it says, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
The advisory says businesspeople, journalists, academics, relatives of Chinese nationals and “former foreign-government personnel” have all recently been detained and interrogated on national security grounds, with “exit bans” also being used as a tool to leverage cooperation.
“U.S. citizens might only become aware of an exit ban when they attempt to depart the PRC, and there may be no available legal process to contest an exit ban,” it says, adding that “relatives, including minor children” may also be prevented from leaving China.
The previous State Department advisory also recommended Americans reconsider travel to China, but it instead focused on the surge in COVID-19 cases and pandemic-related restrictions.
China’s foreign ministry has yet to respond to the update.
The new advisory follows the passage of China’s foreign relations law that takes a broad view of what constitutes “espionage,” and which critics suggest could be used to target foreign businesspeople, journalists and any other foreigners who displease authorities.
It also follows the life sentence given in May to dual U.S.-Chinese citizen Leung Shing-wan, who also went by John Leung and headed a Beijing-backed overseas Chinese group, on “espionage” charges.
In the decade since China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping took power, China has increased its use of exit bans, applying them to human rights defenders, businesspeople, foreign journalists and ethnic minorities, according to a recent report by an NGO.
The bans are applied on national security grounds, involvement in criminal or civil cases, and other justifications and many subjects are unaware of their exit ban until they attempt to leave China, it said.