Increasing number of foreigners avoid travel to China due to fear of detention: Report

ANI
·3-min read
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Washington [US], March 12 (ANI): Over a dozen academics, NGO workers and media professionals said they were unwilling to travel to China after the detention of foreigners in the country instilled fear in some people.

In a CNN report, Jenni Marsh writes that as President Xi Jinping breeds a culture of nationalism and forges increasingly hostile relations with Western governments, some fear being a target of a possible diplomatic spat between their government and Beijing.

Several people pointed to the detention of two Canadians in China in December 2018 - Micheal Kovrig, an NGO worker and Michael Spavor, who organised trips to North Korea - after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on charges filed in the US.

Last year, Chinese-Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei, who worked for the state media channel CGTN, was also detained amid worsening ties between Beijing and Australia.

Gordon Matthews, a professor of anthropology living in Hong Kong, says some of his colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who have devoted their lives to China, are exploring pursuing new lines of academic inquiry to avoid visiting the mainland, reported CNN.

"If they're willing to arbitrarily detain someone who was a very moderate, thoughtful academic, or a think tank type of person...then it's difficult to see how anyone can feel safe," said William Nee, an American who works for NGO China Human Rights Defenders.

However, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the 'so-called increased risk in arbitrary detention of foreigners in China' was completely 'inconsistent with the facts'.

"China has always protected the safety and legitimate rights and interests of foreigners in China in accordance with the law," the ministry in a statement in response to CNN's inquiry.

"On the Internet and social media, many foreigners share their experiences of working and living in China, saying that China is one of the safest countries they have ever lived in, and it is safe even when walking alone at night," it added.

In June last year, a business advisory council to the US State Department issued a report titled 'Hostage Diplomacy in China', which cited the two Canadians' cases as a primary reason why firms should be more careful when sending employees to China, reported CNN.

Several academic, former diplomats and think tanks across the world have similarly signed open letters expressing concern over the two detentions. "Human beings are not bartering chips ... We're going to work together until we get their safe return," said US President Joe Biden last month.

Between 2009 and 2020, more than 50 cases involving foreigners detained in police custody or prevented from leaving China have appeared in media reports, CNN reported citing Thomas Nunlist, a risk analyst at Hill and Associates.

"Some activities, such as involvement with North Korea or work in human rights advocacy, were clearly sensitive; others, such as conducting geological or historical research, were less obviously politically sensitive," said Nunlist.

Moreover, exit bans have increasingly been used on foreigners -- including on US, Australian and Canadian citizens -- who face no charges in China. A number of ethnically Chinese US citizens, in particular, have been banned from leaving China, essentially kept as "hostages" to lure their Chinese relatives living abroad to return to the country to settle business and legal disputes, Marsh wrote.

In February 2019, Richard O'Halloran became the first Irish citizen to be the subject of a Chinese exit ban, according to his legal team. O'Halloran had travelled to Shanghai to settle a business dispute involving fraud allegations against a shareholder in the aviation leasing firm he worked for. His exit ban was finally lifted in January, but was stopped again.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said O'Halloran was "obliged to cooperate with the Chinese judicial authorities in recovering the assets involved" in the case involving the company he represents. (ANI)