Risks Americans face when traveling to China

For years, Chinese observers have warned of Beijing’s growing use of “hostage diplomacy,” and last month it was fully exposed. Two Canadians in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by Chinese authorities in 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States for alleged sanctions violations American. As soon as Meng was returned to China at the end of September, Kovrig and Spavor were released.

Chinese government insisted for years, their seizure of the Canadians had nothing to do with Meng’s detention. So how come they were released just hours after Meng’s plea deal was executed?

Make no mistake: just like their North Korean clients, the Chinese government has taken hostages to force a favorable political outcome. They have been rewarded for their behavior, and history shows that will only continue. A warning to anyone traveling to China: you could easily be next.

For any tourist traveling to China, the risk of being detained is statistically low. Before the pandemic, nearly three million Americans traveled to China in any given year. The detainees had commercial or institutional links there. For example, Michael Kovrig, released during the resolution of the Meng case, advises a nonprofit organization in international conflict in the Northeast Asia region.

But given the arbitrariness of China’s behavior, it would be unwise to simply ignore the risk.

China, of course, denies holding foreigners for geopolitical purposes. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said recently accusations of “hostage diplomacy” are nothing but “disinformation” and the United States, not China, practices diplomatic coercion.

A few examples can convince you otherwise.

Last fall according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese officials have warned US officials that they may detain US citizens in response to the Justice Department’s actions against Chinese army-affiliated scientists accused of stealing US research from US universities. We should not take this warning lightly, because China has already done so.
In June 2014, American and Canadian officials caught a Chinese aerospace contractor for his role in the theft of sensitive US military secrets, including information about the F-35 fighter program. As he awaited his extradition to the United States, the Chinese retaliated against innocent civilians: two months later, Chinese authorities uprooted a Canadian couple, Kevin and Julia Garratt, from the northern town of Dandong. -is, where they had worked to help orphanages and people with disabilities.
China celebrates Meng Wanzhou's return as victory, even at the expense of global image
They were accused without proof to be spies. Julia was released after six months, but Kevin suffered in detention for over two years. They were only released after the Chinese spy gave up extradition, traveled freely to the United States, and pleaded guilty to his accusations.

Does this sound familiar to you? It’s the same playbook Beijing just used.

Americans have also been targeted. In 2018, US citizen Han Tong was thrown in jail, where she has languished for three years while her two American children, Victor and Cynthia Liu, who joined their mother on a family visit, were prevented from leaving the home. China. until last monday, apparently in an effort to pressure Han’s husband to return to China to face business-related charges.

The cruelty of this conduct cannot be underestimated. The Chinese government knowingly imprison and prosecute innocent foreign citizens for tangential political ends.

China refuses to reform its legal system to modern international standards or allow an independent judiciary. Beijing’s message to foreigners is clear: the law and its supposed protections for the innocent are disposable as soon as it becomes beneficial to get rid of them. In the United States, our rule of law system protects the American people from our government. The Chinese system protects the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from the Chinese people, as well as the ordinary course of geopolitics.

Fortunately, we have tools at our disposal to answer them.

First, we can apply sanctions to Chinese individuals, officials and judges responsible for any future hostage-taking of US citizens using the recently passed Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Act. The law should also be expanded to allow the US government to target officials who seize the citizens of our allies. With such a change, the United States could have punished China for targeting Canadians.

Beijing has denied taking political hostages.  Experts say fate of two Canadians suggests otherwise

Second, the West may further discourage travel to China, especially from business executives and others most at risk.

Currently, travel to China is listed by the State Department as a level 3 risk, in part because of China’s “arbitrary application of local laws”. The US government should consider raising the warning to Level 4, in line with countries like Iran and North Korea, which regularly hold Americans and others hostage.

Finally, the international business community, which is disproportionately targeted by China’s hostage-taking (as well as China’s intellectual property theft), should find its voice. Businesses should consider cutting back on business travel to China. This would make it clear to Beijing that its hostage-taking tactics are having consequences.

Today, Meng is quoted in Chinese media about the “torment” she allegedly suffered wearing an ankle monitor while living comfortably in one of her two mansions while awaiting her extradition. We have yet to hear from the Michaels about their treatment from the Chinese government. If and when they finally speak, Western travelers to China should listen carefully: those who visit China could suffer a similar fate.

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