China is increasingly barring people from leaving the country, including foreign officials, in a raucous message as officials say the country is open for business after three years of strict COVID-19 restrictions.
Tens of millions of Chinese and foreigners have been caught in the net of exit restrictions, according to a new report by the rights group Safeguard Defenders, while a Reuters analysis found an apparent jump in court cases involving such restrictions in recent years, and Foreign trade lobbies are expressing concern. about the trend.
“Since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, China has expanded the legal landscape for exit bans and has sometimes used them outside legal justification,” the Safeguard Defenders report said.
“Between 2018 and July this year, at least five new or amended (Chinese) laws provided for the use of exit restrictions, for a total of 15 laws,” said Laura Harth, the group’s campaign director.
The group estimates that “tens of thousands” of Chinese are prohibited from exiting at any given time. It also cites a 2022 academic paper by Chris Carr and Jack Wroldson that found 128 cases of foreign exits between 1995 and 2019, including 29 Americans. and 44 Canadian.
The exit ban has come under increasing attention as China-US tensions escalate over trade and security disputes. This contrasts with China’s message that it is opening up to foreign investment and travel, emerging from the isolation of some of the world’s strictest COVID restrictions.
A Reuters analysis of records on exit bans from China’s Supreme Court database shows an eightfold increase in cases citing bans between 2016 and 2022.
China tightened its anti-espionage law last week, imposing restrictions on the exit of any Chinese or foreigner who is under investigation.
Most cases regarding blocking exits to databases are civil, not criminal. Reuters found no involvement in foreign or politically sensitive subversion or national security issues.
By comparison, the US and EU impose travel restrictions on some criminal suspects, but generally not for civil claims.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the exit restrictions, including an inquiry on how many individuals, including foreigners, are subject.
One person prevented from leaving China this year is a Singaporean executive at US due-diligence firm Mintz Group, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The company, the executive and China’s Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.
Mintz said authorities raided the firm’s China office in late March and detained five local employees. The State Department said at the time Mintz was suspected of involvement in illegal business operations. Police visited the office of Bain & Co in Shanghai and questioned employees, the US management consultant said last week.
“Because of rising tensions between the US and China, this (exit ban) risk has grown in importance,” said Lester Ross, a veteran China lawyer who has handled exit ban cases.
“I’ve seen an increase in companies and institutions being concerned about this and asking for our advice on how to prepare for exit restrictions and mitigate the risks,” said Ross, who heads the American Chamber of Commerce’s China policy committee.
‘The uncertainty is huge’
Foreign businesses are concerned about increased scrutiny and the vague wording of the counter-espionage law, which says an exit ban could be imposed on those who “harm national security or cause significant harm to national interests”.
“The uncertainty is huge,” said Jörg Wuttke, head of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
The EU chamber told Reuters in a statement: “At a time when China is actively trying to restore business confidence to attract foreign investment, the ban on exit sends very mixed signals.”
Those prevented from leaving China include regular Chinese embroiled in financial disputes, as well as rights defenders, activists and lawyers, and ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, reports Safeguard Defenders.
It cites a Chinese judicial report that said 34,000 people were banned from moving out between 2016 and 2018 for owing money, a 55% increase from the same period three years earlier.
Some activists say the widespread use of the exit ban reflects tighter security measures under President Xi.
“They can find any reason to prevent you from leaving the country,” said Jiang Li, a Chinese rights activist who was denied deportation for two years before fleeing China in 2017 and later receiving asylum in the United States. “
“There is no rule of law in China,” she told Reuters by phone from California. “The law is used to serve the purposes of the Chinese Communist Party. It is very effective.”
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)