The Chinese Communist Party’s growing practice of preventing people, including foreigners, from leaving the country has raised alarms among foreign business groups and human rights organizations.
On May 2, the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders released a report detailing the trend of Chinese authorities broadening the legal framework to impose exit bans against supposed dissenters, both Chinese and foreign.
The report specifies that state authorities enact an exit ban either by not allowing an individual to leave the country while at the border or by canceling or confiscating their passport.
Safeguard Defenders note that new measures have just been passed in China allowing the authorities to place an exit ban on anyone under investigation or deemed a potential risk to national security, Chinese citizens and foreign nationals alike.
This differs from other countries like the U.S., where travel bans may be imposed for alleged criminal acts but never for civil claims, per Reuters.
In China, over 15 new laws have been passed expanding the legal categories related to exit bans since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, per the Safeguard Defenders’ report.
Many have already been caught in the net of these measures, with an estimated “tens of thousands” of Chinese citizens and 128 foreigners slapped with exit bans, per the report.
For instance, approximately 34,000 Chinese were barred from leaving the country between 2016 and 2018 because they had debt and were judged as having the means to pay it, per the report.
An investigation by Reuters likewise found that there has been a significant rise in court cases involving exit bans in recent years, with most being related to civil rather than criminal charges.
Notably, China’s Supreme Court database shows an eight-fold rise in the number of cases mentioning exit bans between 2016 and 2022.
Given the vague language of the new counter-espionage legislation regarding what would permit the issuing of an exit ban on an individual, “uncertainty is huge” among foreign businesses and executives, as Jorg Wuttke, head of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told Reuters.
This is especially true of Americans, with U.S.-Chinese relations hitting a low point this past year due to Washington’s spy balloon allegations, semiconductor sanctions, and military alliances with some of China’s neighbors.
As The Dallas Express reported, the recent rhetoric employed by Xi has become much more confrontational with regard to the U.S.
In light of this and the exit ban expansion, Lester Ross, who heads the American Chamber of Commerce’s China policy committee, has noted an increase in U.S. companies seeking advice on how to mitigate risk during their dealings in China, per Reuters.
The tight restrictions seen for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic in China have left the economy weakened and public dissent at a high, as The Dallas Express reported.
It is yet to be seen how the new counter-espionage legislation and other measures aimed at tightening political control over dissenters will impact the country’s economic recovery.