The Chinese government has implemented an entry ban in its southern neighbor Korea and imposed a similar travel ban on Taiwan. While the reasons for these moves are not clear, it is obvious that China has reason to worry as Taiwan is seen as a possible future enemy. In addition, North Korea is itself a nuclear power and China’s relationship with the United States are by far the most important relationship in the region. When tensions are high, both the US and China will have a major say in how the regional balance is maintained. So, if the Chinese government feels that it cannot rely upon either the US or its ally to bail them out, it is looking to dictate how things happen.
The first signs of this new Chinese policy appeared during President Obama’s visit to Asia. After the UN General Assembly in New York, the Chinese government released a statement saying that it “reinforced its call for all nations to comply with its own set of travel restrictions.” The restrictions were not specifically named but included all imports of technology and devices that are capable of spying or harming China or its citizens. While the United States and its allies have released statements calling for the release of these Chinese restricted items, they have also released statements condemning the new Chinese restrictions.
If these actions appear to be official Chinese government policy, one could also assume that the government would seek to implement a similarly restrictive exit ban once the mood swings back to normal. The latest development came as a surprise to the American public when President Obama met with his national security team on a plane headed to South Korea. None of the national security officials present understood what the Chinese were telling the president. The meeting lasted a mere twenty-one minutes but news reports suggested that the Chinese had demanded that the US remove all references to Taiwan from its tourism websites. Reports also suggested that President Obama may consider instituting an exit ban similar to the one imposed on Iraq.
There are two scenarios that suggest the likelihood that the Chinese authorities will institute a ban of this type. The first scenario is consistent with Chinese law, which emphasizes the need for citizens to be informed of their rights and the responsibility of citizens to protect them. In the case of China, foreigners who visit or work in China are obligated to protect their rights and obligations while in the country. The second scenario is related to China’s reaction to previous U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Since Taiwan is not part of China, the U.S. administration has not viewed it as a part of its own territory and does not intend to recognize the existence of Taiwan as a separate state.
To be clear, there is no indication that the Chinese authorities are planning to institute a ban of this kind. Instead, a January 15 ruling legalizing the implementation of a five-year visa-on-arrival program between China and the European Union was issued by the State Council of China. The document did not explicitly name Europe as a country that could issue travel visas to Chinese nationals, but it implied that the plan would apply to anyone traveling to China. The same provision is also present in the Foreign Ministry’s notice of January 24th regarding the current five-year plan, which reiterates that all citizens of China can apply for five-year visa extensions once they reach the age of sixty-five years old.
The State Council’s decision marks a significant change in the way foreign visitors are treated when entering China. Before the implementation of the visa-on-arrival system, citizens from most countries had to wait for months at a time just to get a visa to visit China. Most of the time, they had to submit their application at the Chinese embassy, which required many weeks of waiting and a corresponding amount of paperwork. The new visa-on-arrival scheme solves this problem by allowing Chinese nationals to apply for a visa directly at the Chinese consulate, which can often take up to several months to process. Chinese authorities have indicated that the new system will make processing visa applications faster, particularly for foreigners who are applying to visit relatives who are currently residing in China.
Along with the implementation of the VOA, China’s government has also revised its travel advice to conform with the United States’ Department of State’s recently released Travel Manual. According to this revised travel advice, all Chinese citizens applying for a work permit or a visiting visa will need to present proof of Chinese nationality before the consular officer at the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC. Along with this requirement, there is now a new requirement for travelers intending to take an overseas trip to China – applicants need to present proof of marriage to a Chinese national or the birth of a Chinese national. While both of these requirements are for work permits only, some Chinese citizens who are not married to a Chinese national and who intend to visit China on a business trip will still need to present proof of marriage to the embassy. For the purposes of visa application, however, a valid business travel visa will still be required.
The changes have come as a pleasant surprise to many Chinese nationals who had expected that the relaxation of visa requirements on visiting American citizens would have been released for the January holidays. On the other hand, even Chinese nationals who are US citizens can only obtain their business visas via the Beijing International Airport since the Beijing International Airport is considered by the Chinese authorities to be the most appropriate choice for foreign travel to China. This, of course, does little to ease the anxiety that Chinese tourists may experience when traveling outside of China. If you are planning a trip to China, it is important that you plan it well in advance and make certain that you have all of your documents in order and ready to receive your visa upon arrival.