The Chinese should travel even less

SFor almost a year now, Chinese citizens have had to prove a “necessary purpose of travel” if they want to renew their passport or have a travel document issued for the first time. In the future, it could become even more difficult for the Chinese to leave their country. The responsible border authority announced on Thursday that it would “strictly limit” all “unnecessary” foreign trips by Chinese citizens. What that means exactly and how travelers could be stopped is unclear. On Friday, the authority described study and research stays, business trips, employment abroad and medical operations as “necessary” trips. Family visits and vacation trips are not included.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

The reason for the restriction is the fight against the corona virus. The reason behind this is probably that Chinese people leaving the country want to return later and could introduce the virus into the country. Since the Chinese air traffic control authority has drastically reduced the number of flights from abroad, this possibility is limited anyway. There are countless examples of Chinese who have been trying in vain to return home for months because their flights have been canceled or they cannot afford the high cost of tickets. Such stories cast an unfavorable light on a country that otherwise portrays itself as a zealous advocate of the interests of its citizens abroad.

With its announcement that it will strictly limit non-essential travel, the border authority is demonstrating its eagerness to comply with the instructions of state and party leader Xi Jinping. “All levels must carefully study Secretary-General Xi Jinping’s important speech and put its spirit into practice,” the statement said on Thursday. Xi made the fight against the corona virus a priority at a meeting of the party’s highest body last week. In addition to exit restrictions, the authority announced even stricter procedures against illegal border crossings and an even more restrictive issuing of visas to foreigners entering the country. The border guards assured that the movement of goods, which is suspected to be contaminated with viruses, should also be controlled even more strictly.

Announcement raises concerns

One of the peculiarities of the Chinese system is that the most consequential policies are particularly vague and often proclaimed in a single sentence. The announcement of “strict” restrictions on travel therefore inevitably raised fears that it was not just about disease protection and that the restrictions could remain in place after the end of the pandemic.

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Either way, Chinese corona policy has been leading to increasing isolation of the country for two years. There were only three international flights at Beijing International Airport on Friday: to Frankfurt, Johannesburg and Taipei. According to official figures, last year there were almost 80 percent fewer entries and exits than in 2019. Only 335,000 passports were issued in the first half of 2021 – 98 percent fewer than in the first half of 2019.

The reduced exchange with other countries is entirely in the interests of the regime. Recently, Chinese scholars were prevented from attending the online annual conference of the prestigious Asian Studies Association. And several well-known Chinese universities have just abandoned their participation in international rankings after Xi Jinping urged universities to stop “blindly” following foreign standards.

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