Whether it’s roaming the corridors of the Forbidden City, trekking along the Great Wall of China, experiencing the energy of Shanghai, or conducting business with the world-class trade market, China brings in almost 60 million visitors a year.
The clash between China’s highly advanced technologies and the Old World attract people from all over to experience the excitement and culture of The People’s Republic.
But don’t hop on that plane quite yet, because recent events in China have made the famous Eagles lyrics, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” not just about Hotel California.
Why do we need to be careful?
As of January 3rd, the State Department updated its travel warning to China to a “Level 2,” which urges Americans to “exercise increased caution” when visiting the country.
China has decreed “exit bans” and American citizens have been detained when Chinese authorities or officials find it in the country’s best interest to do so.
Unfortunately, U.S. citizens aren’t aware they’ll receive an exit ban until they attempt to leave the country, at which point they are taken into custody for an undisclosed amount of time that could be a few hours or a few years.
The State Department also warns that “U.S. citizens under exit bans have been harassed and threatened,” and in addition, “U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime.”
How dangerous is visiting?
China was moved to a Level 2 status last year, as opposed to its usual Level 1 status of “exercising normal precautions.” Of course, we should exercise caution no matter we travel.
Additionally, China has begun randomly enforcing its local laws. As tripadvisor.com notes in its China Highlights section, China is, “a nation of laws, not a nation of the rule of law.”
For example, some Chinese citizens will ride their motorcycles on the sidewalk or taxis will bypass traffic by using the shoulder of the road.
While this is certainly illegal according to Chinese laws, should you as an American follow suit, you may be detained for breaking the law.
Why do we need to exercise caution now?
While Chinese authorities have always acted in favor of their citizens no matter who’s on the wrong side of the law, recent events have made traveling to the country a bit complicated.
An intense trade war between the United States and China had been occurring up until December 1st of last year when President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to postpone all further tariff increases.
However, Meng Wanzhou, CFO of the leading Chinese technology company, Huawei, was soon arrested in Canada on allegations of violating trade agreements with the United States.
Additionally, the country has put special restrictions on dual-citizenship, believing Chinese nationals should remain—or return—to their home country.
According to the State Department, these exit bans can be implemented by Chinese authorities to “lure” or “coerce” its citizens back to China.
How can I stay safe while in China?
Keep your passport on you at all times. You may think you don’t need it while climbing the Tiger Leaping Gorge, but you most certainly do.
Chinese authorities can show up anytime, anywhere, and you are required by law to have your identification, and permission to be in China, on you at all times.
You should also make sure your passport is valid and up-to-date.
And of course, stay away from trouble. If you sense something is amiss or isn’t quite right, walk away—even if it’s a food cart that looks questionable.
Familiarize yourself with basic Chinese laws and procedures, and when navigating uncharted territory, let common sense lead the way.
You can also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts. It also will allow American authorities to locate you should you go missing.
Make sure to have a plan in case of an emergency, including a meeting point with other fellow travelers if you get lost, as well as designating a person of contact in the United States who can help with any possible legal matters.
If you are not of Chinese descent and are not looking to do any business overseas, you likely don’t have too much to worry about.
Of course, always research the travel warnings and bans of any country before visiting, and use your best judgment to decide where, and when, to go.
While refraining from traveling to China at the current moment may be the safest bet, it’s probably unnecessary to cancel that “best of China” vacation you’ve been planning for ten years too.
Please let us know in the comments section if you have been to China recently and how your experience was regarding any exit bans.