Travelers that have been thinking about visiting the Great Wall of China or enjoying some authentic dim sum in the streets of Beijing might want to hold off on their plans for the foreseeable future. The U.S. State Department released a new travel advisory recommending that Americans “reconsider travel to mainland China because of arbitrary law enforcement and the risk of wrongful detention,” citing concerns surrounding the recent treatment of American visitors by the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has long been known to impose unfairly long or otherwise harsh sentences for relatively minor offenses, and foreigners are not exempt from these policies.
Current tensions between China and the United States place American visitors at a particularly high risk of lengthy imprisonment, being prohibited from leaving the country, being harshly punished for even inadvertently breaking laws that are rarely enforced among locals, or other extreme treatment that other tourists might not experience. A similar advisory has also been issued for Hong Kong, a nearby island nation with strong ties to China.
The State Department warns that stranded American tourists could be used as bargaining tools to attempt to manipulate the United States government. They may also be denied access to the U.S. Consulate, which would make seeking assistance significantly more difficult.
The Chinese government has even been known to refuse to tell a particular individual why he or she is being detained, which supports the understanding that it handles similar allegations among different people very inconsistently. Even tourists that believe they have no reason to break any laws may unintentionally violate a local policy or be detained for no clear reason.
Americans that must travel to China under certain essential circumstances are warned to be especially diligent to prevent violating laws that may result in stricter penalties for foreigners. Participation in protests or demonstrations, drug use, and any actions that could be interpreted as opposing the Chinese government should always be avoided.