China more unfriendly towards foreigners

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Washington Post ran this story today, charting the mood of China - or its government - in the lead up to the Games.

Meanwhile, various governments around the world are issuing warnings to their fellow countrymen and women heading to the Games. Below this story is an email I received from on Foreign Affairs section.

1.

China Is Growing Unfriendly to Foreigners, Visitors Say

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 19, 2008

HONG KONG -- Brad Eddington arrived in Shanghai on a whim seven years ago and fell in love with the place. He got a job teaching English to kindergartners at a private school, an apartment in the trendy French Concession district, and a girlfriend. And even though he was on a visitor's visa he had to renew every year, he considered China his new home.

That changed this month. After several frustrating weeks of trying to negotiate China's new visa policies, getting exiled to Hong Kong and failing to gain permission to reenter the mainland, Eddington gave up.

Thousands of other foreign residents are also finding China far less hospitable than it once was because of visa restrictions tightened ahead of the Olympics and reported increasing hostility toward outsiders.

"I thought things would get easier the longer I stayed, but it's the opposite," said Eddington, 36, an Australian. "China's a different place than when I first came." The controversy over Tibet and the Olympic torch relay "may have surfaced feelings that had long been there" about foreigners.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed any suggestion that China, which issued 8.13 million visas last year, has changed the way it treats foreigners and said that it continues to welcome overseas visitors.

Wei Wei, director general of the ministry's consular department, told state-owned media last week that the visa policy aims to "keep dangerous forces outside the country" during the Olympics and that the new measures bring China in line with international standards.

"The new policy is not as strict as might be imagined," Wei said. "Those who apply to come to China for justifiable reasons will be given every convenience."

Some human rights advocates, business associations and foreign visitors say the visa crackdown has more to do with keeping out potential foreign protesters upset about China's control of Tibet, investment in Sudan despite oppression in Darfur or other human rights issues. They say the process is alienating foreigners. Whether this reflects a temporary shift because of the Olympics or a more permanent change has been much discussed by expatriates.

They are also spooked by several recent attacks on foreigners. The harassment of a recent Boston College graduate in Hunan Province at a protest against French hypermarket chain Carrefour in April has served as a warning that the growing nationalist sentiment can turn ugly. Although James Galvin, 22 and American, wasn't harmed, one youth lunged at him while others shouted, "Kill him! Kill the Frenchman!"

In June, an Associated Press reporter and two photographers were dragged from the scene of a protest by parents whose children had died while at school during the Sichuan earthquake.

In an interview, a 24-year-old French student recounted how he was attacked by three Chinese men on a Shanghai subway train one night last week. He said one of the assailants told him: "This is my home. You are not welcome here" and punched him until he fell.

On the one hand, the student said he was shocked and angry about the attack, which left him with large, painful bruises near his ribs and on his legs. On the other, he said the attack showcased the good side of China as well as the bad. He said he was saved from serious harm by several Chinese bystanders -- an elderly man and woman and some young girls -- who moved to stop the attack and help him out of the station.

"There are bad people everywhere in every country. It's bad luck. I was just at a wrong place in a wrong moment," he said. In China, "I think the problem is that there are more and more foreigners. Some people are interested in them. Some people are afraid."

The student said he still loves being in China and does not intend to change his plans to get a job there and stay for four to five years.

For a generation of adventure-seekers who grew up in the '80s, China has held great allure with its mix of traditional villages and gleaming skyscrapers. China offered cheap rent and free-flowing alcohol at its growing number of bars in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and other large cities. The foreigners -- business executives and backpackers -- in turn helped open art galleries, restaurants and the ubiquitous trading companies.

On paper, the visa rules for China have always been strict. But in recent years, foreigners could turn to a thriving gray market for their immigration documents. For a small fee, agencies would gather all the paperwork required for coveted visas allowing visitors to remain in the country for as long as a year.

That abruptly ended in April.

China all but stopped issuing multi-entry visas and began requiring tourists to submit documentation such as hotel reservations, plane tickets and other information. Police officials also began randomly stopping foreigners in the street and questioning them about their status in the country. Immigration officials increasingly made unannounced visits to companies to check the paperwork of foreign employees.

In past months, Hong Kong has become a way station for foreigners stranded because they weren't able to get Chinese visas.

One freelance photographer from Detroit was studying in the southern city of Shenzhen when he had to retreat to Hong Kong because he couldn't get his visa renewed. Timothy O'Rourke said he had $1,000 tied up in a deposit on an apartment and six months left on his lease. O'Rourke, 44, was in a panic until a friend suggested he consider mailing his passport back to the United States. It worked. For $350, a visa agency was able to get him a multi-entry visa.

Others haven't been so lucky.

The problem has at times been devastating for businesspeople who have investments or clients in China.

Arif Nihat Kilic, 40, exports watches and medical devices from the mainland to Turkey. He said he has been able to get a multi-entry visa the past four years but was rejected this year. So every other week, he goes to the visa office in Hong Kong to get another short-term visa. Most of his buyers from Turkey have it worse, he said, and haven't even been able to get a single tourist visa. He estimates that orders are down 80 percent as a result.

"Many Chinese suppliers can no longer do business. They ask me, 'What's going on? Why aren't the customers coming?' " Kilic said.

Richard Vuylsteke, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said his organization, which represents small- to mid-size businesses, has received numerous complaints about delayed or rejected visas.

"It's not that the border is closed, but it's more difficult to get in frequently," he said. "It is making business more complicated and more expensive, and just kind of counterproductive not just for foreign business people who go in and out but also for their counterparts."


2.

Also from the Washington Post (no doubt the mouthpiece of the evil American empire)

Across China, Security Instead Of Celebration
Police Crack Down on 'Hostile Forces,' Apply New Safety Measures

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 19, 2008; A01

YENGISHAHAR, China -- Shortly after dawn on July 9, the local government here bused several thousand students and office workers into a public square and lined them up in front of a vocational school. As the spectators watched, witnesses said, three prisoners were brought out. Then, an execution squad fired rifles at the three point-blank, killing them on the spot.

The young men had been convicted of having connections to terrorist plots, which authorities said were part of a campaign aimed at disrupting the Beijing Olympics by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an underground separatist organization here in the vast Xinjiang region of western China. The group has long fought for independence on behalf of the region's Muslim Uighur inhabitants.

The public execution of the men was a dramatic example of the massive, unforgiving security operation that has been mounted in China to protect the Beijing Games from what Communist Party authorities describe as an urgent threat of violence and anti-government protest.

"Especially as the Beijing Olympic Games draw near, a range of anti-China forces and hostile forces are striving by any means and redoubling efforts to engage in trouble-making and sabotage," Yang Huanning, a vice minister of public security and an anti-terrorism specialist, said in a declaration to the Public Security Bureau's newspaper.

With the Games three weeks away, the precautions already have proved so sweeping that some observers question whether the sense of fellowship and fun that is supposed to accompany the Olympics can survive. Alongside the crackdown against Muslim extremists here in Xinjiang, for instance, have come confusing new visa restrictions, multiple roadside checkpoints, reinforced pat-downs at airports and subway stations, and raids on bars popular among foreigners. The result has been an atmosphere of coercion, not celebration.

On Thursday, China issued a manual advising the public what to do in the case of a terrorist attack, according to state-run media. The manual included guidance on how to respond to 39 scenarios including explosions, kidnappings and shootings, and attacks involving chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, China's leaders have extended the scope of their concerns to include peaceful political protests. In public and private comments, Chinese officials have seemed just as determined to prevent pro-Tibet demonstrators from unfurling banners in front of television cameras as they are to head off hotel bombings by Muslim extremists, according to Chinese specialists and foreign diplomats.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau warned recently on its Web site that any demonstration must have prior approval from authorities, in effect banning anti-government protest.

Aware of the misgivings about overkill, Chinese authorities have said their top priorities must be to guarantee the safety of Olympic athletes and spectators, and to prevent political protests from ruining the display of international harmony long promised to the Chinese people. If the resulting security measures seem heavy-handed to some foreigners, they have said, it is only because of a failure to understand the stakes involved.

"A safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the Games," Xi Jinping, a member of the party's elite Politburo Standing Committee and the senior official supervising preparations, said in a recent speech. "A safe Olympics is also the biggest indicator of the positive reflection of our nation's image."

Ma Xin, a government security expert who is part of an Olympic advisory team, said security must be tight not only because of the threat of violence but also because thousands of foreign dignitaries will be on hand, including President Bush, and could become targets for international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Added Liu Jiangyong, a national security specialist at Qinghua University's Institute of International Studies: "The more China wants to show hospitality, the more it should pay attention to security issues."
A Three-Layer Barrier

At a checkpoint in Hebei province near Beijing's southern suburbs, more than 100 cars lined up Wednesday afternoon at the entrance to National Highway 107, awaiting a security check. The checkpoint was staffed by a dozen men in police and camouflage uniforms, several carrying weapons.

Drivers and their passengers were asked to produce identification while security agents searched underneath the cars and opened suitcases. Foreign passport holders were singled out for extra scrutiny, and their IDs were checked against what appeared to be a national database.

The checks were part of what officials have described as a three-layer security barrier around Beijing that was implemented Tuesday and that is scheduled to last through the Olympics, which run from Aug. 8 to 24. All vehicles entering the capital are subject to search at any of the hundreds of checkpoints constituting the three security rings, officials said.

At the Beijing airport -- which will close during the opening ceremony -- passengers also have been warned that, beginning July 20, they will be subject to a search at the entrance in addition to already meticulous security inspections between check-in counters and boarding gates.

Here in the Xinjiang region, the precautions are even more severe. Boarding a flight at the Urumqi airport Wednesday required six inspections between curbside and the airplane door.

Aside from 80,000 police officers and half a million neighborhood volunteers mobilized for the Olympic period in Beijing, officials announced, 100,000 anti-terrorism troops have been put on alert, and people's movements will be monitored by 300,000 surveillance cameras erected throughout the city.

The Defense Ministry said the soldiers have been ordered to guard against chemical attacks or assaults by hijacked aircraft in addition to bombings or kidnappings. Hongqi 7 air-to-ground missile batteries have been set up near the Olympic playing fields and warships have been assigned to cruise offshore while the Games are underway. The People's Liberation Army also plans to have unmanned drones in the air to increase surveillance, according to the official New China News Agency.

Security officials have displayed equal zeal in seeking to make peaceful but embarrassing protests impossible during the Games. Under the newly rigorous visa restrictions, Chinese consular officials abroad have been told to refuse entry to anyone who "may do things that are harmful to China."

Television networks that spent millions of dollars on broadcast rights are still negotiating the extent to which they will be able to do live shots from Tiananmen Square. The iconic esplanade in central Beijing was the site of the June 4, 1989, crackdown against pro-democracy protesters; it would be an ideal site for foreign or Chinese demonstrators seeking to take advantage of the world's attention during the Olympics.

At a negotiating session July 9 with the International Olympic Committee, Chinese officials said live broadcasts from Tiananmen would be allowed only from 6 to 10 a.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. Beijing time. Only correspondents would be allowed to speak, they said, not invited guests who could make political comments.
Separatist Group Targeted

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which mounted a number of fatal bombings in Xinjiang during the 1990s, has been designated a terrorist organization by the Chinese government. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration agreed, saying its leaders have links to al-Qaeda. But the group's exiled spokesmen repeatedly have denied the connection, saying they are only seeking independence for Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and look more Central Asian than Chinese.

Authorities have moved aggressively against the group, which they have said presents the leading threat of terrorism during the Olympics.

On the day before the executions this month, police in Urumqi, the regional capital 600 miles northeast of Yengishahar, raided an apartment in a gated, middle-class community and killed five Uighurs who the authorities said were preparing for "holy war." The official New China News Agency, quoting Urumqi officials, said those in the apartment, 10 men and five women, wielded knives and resisted arrest when surrounded by police.

Those who survived said they had received training to launch attacks against the growing numbers of Han Chinese who have been encouraged to immigrate to Xinjiang and who now make up more than half the regional population of about 20 million, the agency said.

Separately, authorities announced in March that an alert airline crew had prevented a man and a woman from blowing up an airplane that took off from Xinjiang. They were later identified as Muslim separatists traveling on Pakistani passports.

Chen Zhuangwei, who heads the Urumqi Public Security Bureau, said that in all, police have broken up five terrorist groups in Xinjiang since the beginning of the year and have arrested 82 people on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks during the Beijing Olympics. At the same time, Chen told local media, police closed 41 training bases for holy war, interpreted as closures of unauthorized Islamic schools.

Those executed here July 9 were among 17 people convicted in nearby Kashgar of being members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-funded broadcast service, said the others were sentenced to jail terms from 10 years to life.

All were captured in January 2007, when Chinese authorities said they raided a terrorist training camp, killing 18 members of the group and arresting the 17, according to what officials announced during the execution. Several local residents said some of those killed were strangers, but others were well known in Yengishahar, a garrison town near the border with Pakistan. The executions went down poorly.

"It was not a good thing, what the Chinese did," said a Uighur witness who discussed what he saw on the condition of anonymity.


3. And this is what i was emailed recently, warning me to take care and not do anything stupid:

There is some risk to your security in Tibet and in Tibetan areas
located in the Provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai and we
advise caution.

In March 2008, several days of protests in Tibet turned violent,
resulting in widespread rioting and property damage in Lhasa. The
Chinese authorities have reopened Tibet to foreign travellers,
however visitors should be aware that demonstrations and
violence could occur with little warning. Permission from the Chinese
authorities is required for travel to Tibet.

Protests and demonstrations were reported to have occurred in other
parts of China, including in the Tibetan areas located in the
provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan during March and the
following months.

Visitor in China are advised to avoid all areas where
protests, demonstrations and marches are taking place. If you are in
an area where there are protests you should stay indoors, comply with
any instructions and restrictions issued by the local authorities,
and avoid any unnecessary movement through the streets until the
situation is under control.

An earthquake in Sichuan province on 12 May 2008 resulted in tens of
thousands of deaths and injuries, and caused significant damage to
property, transport and communications infrastructure throughout the
region. Floods and landslides continue to occur in areas affected by
the earthquake. Visitors travelling to the region should
therefore monitor local news and weather reports and follow
instructions of local authorities.

Beijing Olympic Games 8-24 August and Paralympic Games 6-17 September
The Chinese authorities have put in place extensive measures to
ensure the safety and security of visitors attending the Games.
Visitors should at all times comply with the directions of the
Chinese authorities.

Travellers should be aware that Chinese laws are not the same as your country's laws. Chinese detention facilities are not like those in your country and if arrested you could be jailed or deported.

There are strictly enforced laws prohibiting demonstrations without
prior approval and travellers should avoid demonstrations of any
kind, especially those related to human rights, anti-government and
religion.
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