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US warns travelers on Chinese ‘exit bans’ that may detain them for years

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks at the Department Awards Ceremony, at the Department of State, November 27, 2018. (State Department/Released)
January 04, 2019

The U.S. State Department issued a new travel advisory for U.S. citizens traveling to China amid tensions between the two nations.

The advisory, released Thursday, urges China-bound travelers to move with “increased caution” due to an increase of detained Americans in China as a result of increased restrictions and bans.

The advisory states:

Exercise increased caution in China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.
Chinese authorities have asserted broad authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving China by using ‘exit bans,’ sometimes keeping U.S. citizens in China for years. China uses exit bans coercively:

  • to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations,
  • to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and
  • to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.

The level two warning notes that Americans who attempt to leave China may find themselves prohibited by Chinese authorities, and subjected to threats and harassment.

“U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security.’ Security personnel may detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government,” the advisory warns.

A level two warning from the State Department advises “increased caution” while level three advises “reconsider travel” and level four – the highest – advises “do not travel.”

Level two warnings have also been issued for the United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands over terrorism risks, according to CNBC News.

For those traveling to China, the State Department recommends several steps, including: possessing a U.S. passport at all times, requesting notification of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the event of arrest or detainment, enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for travel alerts and locators, and reviewing the State Department’s “Crime and Safety Reports” pertaining to China.

China issued a response to the U.S. travel advisory on Friday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the advisory “cannot stand up to scrutiny,” ABC News reported.

“I think this figure speaks volumes for the security condition in China,” Lu said. “The U.S., however, has recently used various excuses to conduct gratuitous inspections and create obstacles for Chinese citizens entering the U.S.”

Lu, however, did not speak on instances of Chinese citizens prevented from entering the U.S., nor about U.S. citizens subjected to exit bans.