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China mulls visa curbs on US nationals with human rights, intelligence background

Fingerprinting at airport (Gerald Nino/CPB/WikiCommons)
October 11, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in China are considering limiting visas issued to U.S. nationals linked to ‘anti-China’ organizations including rights groups and U.S. intelligence agencies, Reuters news agency reported.

The country’s ministry of public security is mulling rules that will limit the ability of anyone employed, or sponsored, by U.S. intelligence services and human rights groups to travel to China, the report cited anonymous sources as saying.

The news emerged after the U.S. announced visa restrictions on Tuesday restricting visas for Chinese government and ruling Chinese Communist Party officials deemed responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

“This is not something we want to do but we don’t seem to have any choice,” Reuters quoted one source as saying.

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Employees of U.S. military and CIA-linked institutions and rights groups would be added to a new visa blacklist under the new rules, the source said.

“The plan has been widely discussed by senior police officers over recent months, but made more likely to be implemented after the Hong Kong protests and the U.S. visa ban on Chinese officials,” the source said.

The plan also comes after Washington added Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co and 70 affiliates to a list companies that are banned from acquiring components and technology from U.S. firms without U.S. government approval.

Difficulty entering Hong Kong

Arthur Ding, who directs the Institute of International Relations (IIR) at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said the plans are likely more of a threat at this stage.

“China likes to think it is a superpower, and so it is likely to take counter-measures against some practices it sees as unfavorable,” Ding said. “[This would mean that] certain groups in the U.S. that promote democracy around the world would have difficulty getting into Hong Kong.”

“I don’t think this is going to make much difference to anything,” he said. “As we’ve seen recently with the NBA, wherever China tries to move the lines of [ideological] battle to Western countries, there will always be a backlash in those countries.”

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Joseph Cheng, former politics professor at Hong Kong’s City University, said the reported counter-measures are also a part of the ongoing trade war between Beijing and Washington.

“If the U.S. sanctions Chinese officials in the name of human rights, then China has to prepare a list as a counterattack,” Cheng said.

The news has ‘leaked’ to the media as the U.S. Congress gears up to review the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which — if passed — will require Washington to review the city’s human rights record and potentially deny visas or freeze the assets of those held responsible for rights abuses in the city.

The bill has attracted strong bipartisan support since its introduction earlier this year. It has now cleared the committee stage, and is expected to go to a vote soon, possibly this month.

Even if it passes, there will still be a delay in implementing sanctions against Hong Kong officials, Cheng said.

“There will be a delay during which the U.S. government will submit a report to the U.S. Congress assessing the state of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

Hong Kong has barred foreigners

China’s foreign ministry responded on Thursday to the Reuters report by saying that China welcomes U.S. nationals from all walks of life to visit China and interact and meet with its people.

It said recent visa restrictions by the U.S. had placed obstacles in the way of such contact, and called on the U.S. to “put an end to its cold-war mentality and seek to build bridges between the two countries, rather than walls.”

The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday also cited the mistreatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its decision to add 20 Chinese public security bureaus and eight companies to a trade blacklist, including the world’s largest maker of video surveillance gear, Hikvision, and the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence startup, SenseTime.

The United States is also moving ahead with discussions on possible restrictions on capital flows to China, with a focus on investments by U.S. government pension funds, Bloomberg reported.

Last April, a number of prominent Chinese scholars had their U.S. visas revoked, while new legislation banned anyone previously employed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from student or research visas.

Currently, U.S. nationals need a visa to enter the People’s Republic of China, with the exception of Hong Kong, where they are given visa-free tourist access.

Immigration authorities in Hong Kong have, however, denied entry to foreign nationals who present themselves at the border if they are deemed politically sensitive by Beijing.

Immigration authorities have denied entry to a British journalist who gave a platform to a pro-independence politician at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and to a U.K. ruling Conservative Party rights activist.

They have also denied entry to former members of the pro-democracy movement in China, and Taiwan activists who have supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.