China is increasingly banning people from leaving the country, including foreign executives, a shocking message as authorities say the country is open for business after three years of strict COVID-19 restrictions.
Dozens of Chinese and foreigners have been trapped by exit bans, according to a new report by rights group Safeguard Defenders, while a Reuters analysis has found an apparent increase in court cases involving such bans these days. years, and foreign business lobbies are expressing concern. on the trend.
“Since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, China has broadened the legal landscape of exit bans and has increasingly used them, sometimes without any legal justification,” Safeguard Defenders’ report said.
“Between 2018 and July this year, no less than five new or amended (Chinese) laws provide for the use of exit bans, for a total today of 15 laws,” said Laura Harth, campaign manager of the band.
The group estimates that “tens of thousands” of Chinese are banned from leaving at any given time. He also cites a 2022 academic paper by Chris Carr and Jack Wroldsen that found 128 cases of foreigners being banned from leaving between 1995 and 2019, including 29 Americans. and 44 Canadians.
The focus on the exit bans comes as US-China tensions have risen over trade and security disputes. This stands in contrast to China’s message that it is opening up to foreign investment and travel, emerging from the isolation of some of the world’s toughest COVID restrictions.
Reuters analysis of exit ban records, from China’s Supreme Court database, shows an eightfold increase in cases mentioning bans between 2016 and 2022.
Last week, China tightened its counterintelligence law, allowing exit bans to be imposed on anyone, Chinese or foreign, under investigation.
Most of the cases in the database referring to exit bans are civil and not criminal. Reuters found none involving foreigners or politically sensitive subversion or national security issues.
In comparison, the United States and the European Union impose travel bans on certain suspects, but generally not for civil prosecutions.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters on the exit bans, including inquiries about the number of people, including foreigners, subject to them.
One person barred from leaving China this year is a Singaporean executive from 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 in late March that authorities raided the company’s Chinese office and detained five local employees. The Foreign Office said at the time that Mintz was suspected of engaging in illegal business operations. Police visited the Bain & Co office in Shanghai and questioned staff, the US management consultancy said last week.
“Because of rising tensions between the United States and China, the significance of this risk (of an exit ban) has increased,” said Lester Ross, a seasoned China lawyer who has handled cases involving exit ban.
“I’ve seen an increase in the number of companies and entities concerned about this and asking our advice on how to prepare for and reduce the risk” of exit bans, said Ross, the head of the policy committee. Chinese from the American Chamber of Commerce.
“THE UNCERTAINTY IS HUGE”
Foreign companies are concerned about heightened surveillance and vague wording in counterintelligence legislation, which says exit bans can be imposed on those who cause “an injury to national security or significant damage to national interests.” “.
“The uncertainty is enormous,” said Jorg Wuttke, director of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. “Can you do your due diligence? Clarity has to come.”
The EU chamber told Reuters in a statement: “At a time when China is proactively trying to restore business confidence to attract foreign investment, the exit bans send a very mixed signal.”
According to the Safeguard Defenders report, those banned from leaving China include ordinary Chinese people involved in financial disputes as well as rights defenders, activists and lawyers, as well as ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, in northwest China.
He cites a Chinese judicial report indicating that 34,000 people were placed under an exit ban between 2016 and 2018 for owing money, a 55% increase from the same period three years earlier. .
Some activists say the wider use of exit bans reflects tougher security measures under President Xi.
“They can find any reason to prevent you from leaving the country,” said Xiang Li, a Chinese human rights activist who was denied exit for two years before escaping from China. in 2017 and later receive asylum in the United States.
“China doesn’t have the rule of law,” 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)