The US State Department updated its travel advisory for China, Jan. 3. Media outlets quickly picked up on the development, reporting that the newest advisory warns of potential “exit bans” on US nationals in China. While many international travelers and businesses are understandably concerned over the language used in the newest advisory, it is important to note that the updated advisory contains little, if any, substantive changes from the previous version.
A careful reading reveals that the Jan. 3 advisory is very similar to the previous advisory issued Jan. 18, 2018. The latest version adds additional context regarding the practice of exit bans, which are mentioned in the previous advisory. These bans may target US citizens suspected of criminal activities, or individuals who face outstanding civil suits in China. Exit bans have also apparently been used against the immediate relatives of wanted fugitives who have fled China, in order to coerce the suspects to return.
The latest advisory also covers potential increased security measures in Xinjiang and Tibet. It specifically mentions possible curfews and movement restrictions in the regions, which have historically experienced ethnic separatism, protests, and occasional incidents of violence. However, these security issues have existed in the regions for years, if not decades.
Both the latest advisory and the version it replaced have the same overall advisory level: “Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution.” This is also the US State Department advisory level currently issued for most countries in Western Europe, including for France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy, due to the perceived threat of terrorism.
Given the recent increase in economic and political tensions between the US and China, it is understandable that media outlets and individuals are particularly sensitive to developments that may impact foreign nationals operating in China. This is especially true given the Dec. 1 arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, Canada, for allegedly defrauding financial intuitions in relation to US economic sanctions on Iran, and the subsequent detention of two prominent Canadian nationals in China. While travelers to China should remain aware of potential entry and exit issues, the latest US State Department Travel Advisory update does not indicate a substantially changed threat environment in China.
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