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Updated US Travel Advisory for China: Will China tourism officials retaliate?

Every day 8000 Chinese tourists enter the United States, and every day an average of 5000 American tourists enter China.

Americans should exercise increased caution in China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual US-Chinese nationals.

A trade war between the two superpowers is obvious and issuing a travel alert in the midsts of such a conflict could create a response from the other party. US states including Hawaii and territories like Guam are heavily dependent now on Chinese tourists, and possible retaliation by China in response to today’s alert may have great economic consequences for US tourism export.

According to a State Department phone operator, the alert also applies to Hong Kong, but when clarifying this with State Department public affairs officers, there was no clear denial, but eTN was guided to a separate listing for Hong Kong on the State Department country website. It appears no similar concerns are in place for Hong Kong and Macao.

Furthermore, according to the US State Department, the updated January 3 travel advisory for US Citizens traveling to China is a routine update.

At the very least, the “routine update” comes at a time when the US and China are engaging in a trade war, and arrests of US citizens in China had been reported on a number of occasions.

The level 2 alert reads: Chinese authorities have asserted broad authority to prohibit US citizens from leaving China by using “exit bans,” sometimes keeping US citizens in China for years. China uses exit bans coercively:

  • to compel US 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.

In most cases, US citizens only become aware of the exit ban when they attempt to depart China, and there is no method to find out how long the ban may continue. US citizens under exit bans have been harassed and threatened.

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

Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous regions. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.

China does not recognize dual nationality. US-Chinese citizens and US citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and China may prevent the US Embassy from providing consular services.

eTN reached out to the US State Department and a spokesperson said this:

The safety and security of US citizens overseas is one of the Department’s highest priorities, and we are committed to providing US citizens with information so they can make informed decisions before they travel.

The Department of State routinely updates our Travel Advisories and country-specific information for all countries based on a comprehensive review of all available safety information and ongoing developments.

The new Travel Advisory against China provides additional clarity regarding the risk of arbitrary detentions and exit bans and also notes that extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous regions. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.

We review and update all of our Travel Advisories as needed, based on security and safety information.  At a minimum, we review Level 1 and 2 Travel Advisories every 12 months.  The previous Travel Advisory for China was issued in January 2018; the new Advisory was updated as part of the regular annual review and reaffirms China at a Level 2.

The Department of State’s Travel Advisory for China suggests all individuals exercise caution when traveling to China based, in part, on the potential for US citizens visiting and residing in China to be arbitrarily interrogated and detained. This has been a longstanding part of our guidance to US citizens considering traveling to or living in China.

The US Mission in China routinely engages in outreach to the US business community, encouraging business travelers to familiarize themselves with the Travel Advisory for China. The Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council also points members of the business community to the Travel Advisory and country information for China as part of their public information and regular meetings.

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