Chinese High-Tech Researchers Told "Not To Travel To US Unless It’s Essential"

Just a few days after Cisco "erroneously" advised its employees to avoid non-essential travel to China, Beijing has returned the favor, and according to the SCMP, Chinese researchers working in sensitive hi-tech sectors have been warned not to take any unnecessary trips to the United States "as unease grows in the business community following the arrest of a tech executive in Canada."

Workers at a research agency who can't avoid crossing the Pacific were also told in an internal memo that if they did have to travel to the US, they should remove any sensitive information from their mobile phones and laptops, the SCMP reported citing an anonymous source. The soft travel ban is the result of tensions following the arrest of Huawei Technologies CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Canada, who despite being released on bail was not allowed to leave the country.

The South China Morning Post reported last month that the US embassy in Beijing had revoked 10-year multiple-entry visas issued to some researchers specialising in China-US relations at government-backed institutions without explanation amid tightened visa scrutiny. Some researchers also had their computers and mobile phones subjected to checks by US customs officers.

An academic who frequently travels across the Pacific feared changing sentiment in the United States, from engagement to disengagement with Beijing, could lead to a US strategy of full-scale containment of China.

At the request of the US authorities, Huawei executive Meng was arrested on December 1 in Vancouver and was released on bail on Tuesday. She could be extradited to the US to face fraud charges relating to alleged violations of US and EU sanctions on Iran.

Meng’s arrest has added to wariness among businesspeople in both countries. A Chinese executive whose operation covers Southeast Asia and Africa said the case had made him, and others like him, nervous about traveling abroad.

“The long-arm jurisdiction in the US will force us to stay in China if Meng is extradited to the US,” the businessman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue is highly sensitive.

Of course, China rushed to demonstrate that it wouldn't leave such detentions without a response, and on Monday, less than two weeks after Meng’s arrest, arrested a former Canadian diplomat in China by state security. China has so far declined to reveal the whereabouts of Michael Kovrig, a senior adviser with the International Crisis Group who was a diplomat in Beijing before he joined the NGO.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the US was considering issuing a warning to US citizens about travellng to China in the wake of Huawei case.

Meanwhile, according to unconfirmed media reports, President Trump was reportedly advised by his aides to ban Chinese from studying in the US, amid concerns over China’s influence in the country. This in turn prompted at least one US university - the University of Illinois Business School - to take out insurance in case Chinese students are banned from attending in the future. 

Washington has also accused China of cyber and intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and “unfair trade practices” that hurt the US economy, and it has stepped up screening of Chinese with access to American hi-tech sectors. According to the NYT, the DOJ is preparing to charge numerous Chinese individuals and organizations with hacking US entities over the past decade.

Trump has labelled China a strategic competitor and criticised Beijing for industrial policies such as “Made in China 2025”, which aims to move the country up the manufacturing value chain. That led to the US in June restricting visas for Chinese graduates in robotics, aviation and advanced manufacturing from a maximum of five years to 12 months.

In response, the WSJ reported that China is considering plans to delay some targets in its strategy to dominate high-end technologies, also known as "Made in China 2025", and which has been one of the main targets in President Donald Trump’s trade war.