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China Puts Strict Policy Against Foreign Travel By State Workers

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Since Beijing is waging a campaign against foreign influence, Chinese civil servants and workers at state-linked enterprises are facing more stringent restrictions on their ability to travel abroad for personal reasons and are having their foreign connections closely monitored, according to official notices and over a dozen people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Ten current and former workers revealed to Reuters that since 2021, the restrictions have been expanded to include prohibitions on international travel, stricter guidelines about the frequency and length of travels, burdensome approval procedures, and pre-departure secrecy training. They claimed that COVID-19 had no bearing on the actions.

Although the people’s stories differed, they all described increased surveillance of international travel, even after China reopened its borders in January.

Additionally, Reuters discovered that eight government agencies, including the national pension fund, had made eight public declarations in the previous two years indicating that they were tightening regulations on employees’ private travel outside of China, but they did not specify all of the modifications.

A comparable attempt by central and local Chinese authorities to map the personal and familial relationships of workers affiliated with the government and state to foreign nations is evident from various individual testimonies and material that Reuters analysed.

Neil Thomas is a fellow of Chinese politics at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Centre for China Analysis in Washington. “Beijing is increasingly paranoid about the threat of espionage by Western countries, and preventing government employees from going abroad could be a way to reduce opportunities for spying by foreign powers,” Thomas said.

Political ideology also had a role, according to Thomas, as Xi preferred to “look inward for ideas” as opposed to looking to the West for inspiration.

For a considerable time, top government officials and state executives who possess access to sensitive data have been subject to limitations on their personal overseas travel. According to the most current data from 2015, there were 7 million civil officials in China, and 70 million state-enterprise workers.

Two bankers, one with over two decades of experience, claim that lower-level employees at China Construction Bank in Beijing and Shanghai are only permitted to go overseas for personal reasons once a year and for a maximum of 12 days.

When both of them applied for time off in early 2023, they learned of the restrictions, which they claimed were unusual.

According to a teacher in the southeast of Zhejiang province and someone with knowledge of new rules implemented in a Shanghai area this year, some public school instructors also face new restrictions on their ability to go abroad.

 

An employee at a sizable branch of the state policy lender China Development Bank claims that travel to other countries has been prohibited this year, while a representative of a mutual fund affiliated with the state stated that similar limitations apply.

Employees in eastern Wenzhou city are only permitted to go overseas once a year and for a maximum of one month, according to updated regulations that were posted on the Municipal Eco-Environment Bureau branch’s official website in September of last year.

Personal overseas relationships are also being closely examined by Chinese officials. According to the participants, the applications requested details about international assistance or experience, as well as relatives with foreign nationality or permanent residency abroad. They also mentioned that this was the first time they had ever received such inquiries.

China is taking these moves in response to increased public messaging against foreign influence. The Ministry of State Security warned that Chinese nationals might be recruited overseas in August after identifying a Chinese resident in Italy who was allegedly spying for the US Central Intelligence Agency on its freshly established WeChat account.

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