How the exit ban has hurt China’s bid to welcome foreign firms – Asia News

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Chinese leaders have rolled the red carpet for foreign top executives, repeatedly assuring them that the country has been open for business since December, when Beijing lifted draconian Covid-19 restrictions that shut down the world’s second-largest economy for nearly three years.

The most recent example is that state media gave stellar treatment to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s visit.

News coverage of his visits will no doubt encourage other businessmen and investors to resume their trips to mainland China as they try to understand the country’s politically charged investment climate amid escalating Sino-American tensions.

However, in conversations over the past few months with executives in Hong Kong, I have found that some have begun to express concerns about something that would have seemed absurd even a few years ago: Is it safe to travel to mainland China and do they? Banned from leaving? from the country?

The ominous Chinese phrase “bian cong,” or “exit ban,” often enters over-the-table conversations between executives, especially after wine has softened their tongues. The phrase refers to a political tool increasingly used by authorities to stop people from leaving the country amid suspicions or accusations of wrongdoing or simply because they are on the wrong side of a trade dispute or working for the wrong people.

As I dug deeper into the topic, nearly every executive I spoke to had a story to tell about ban dating, whether it was about their own unpleasant experiences or stopping their work friends from dating.
Here is a true story that will put the implications of the exit ban in context, as it shows that this policy is applied arbitrarily and violates international law and human rights. Moreover, it has also become a sticking point in talks between Beijing and Washington, as a number of US passport holders, along with other foreign executives, have found themselves stuck in the exit ban.

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The story concerns a business contact I will call Mr. X to protect his identity and security. Mr. X was a senior executive working for one of several Beijing companies eventually controlled by Duan Weihong, a billionaire known for his close business ties to relatives of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Hong Kong is back, but concerns about its future remain

Mr. X realized something was seriously wrong in October 2017 when he tried to fly to Canada to visit his family, but he was stopped by border police at Beijing Capital International Airport. They told him that he was involved in economic crimes and that he could not leave, but refused to provide him with any documents or give him any other details.

It soon dawns on her that the refusal to let her out may have something to do with the rumors that Duane had been kept secret on corruption charges, despite leaving her company six years earlier.

In the days that followed, his frantic calls to former colleagues and other business partners who also worked with Duan revealed that at least a dozen of them had had similar experiences of being turned away at airport checkpoints or ferry terminals to Hong Kong.

Mr. X ended up in Beijing for more than five years, until January of this year, during which time he was separated from his wife and son and missed important family events. Although he was free to go anywhere in mainland China, the psychological stress took its toll on his mental and physical health.

In conversations over the past few months with Hong Kong executives, I’ve found that some have begun to express concerns about something that even a few years ago would have seemed ridiculous.

The authorities did not contact him once in the more than five years he was stranded. He had no way of appealing against the exit ban, as he did not know who imposed it and why. Likewise, his two subsequent attempts to leave the country in the intervening years were rejected.

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It was only earlier this year that his hopes were raised when speculation swirled that Duane had been released on bail. He tried his luck again, booked a flight to Hong Kong and passed border control at Beijing Airport without any problems.

Mr. X’s harrowing experience follows a pattern in recent years where once a commercial figure is arrested on suspicion of wrongdoing, nearly his entire family, senior colleagues and associates face production bans. They will not be able to leave the country for months or even years until the person is formally released or sentenced.

The scale of exit bans across the country recently emerged in a detailed analysis by advocacy group Safeguard Defenders. It is estimated that at least “tens of thousands” of people are prohibited from leaving the country at any time. Although the majority are Chinese nationals, the travel ban has affected a growing number of foreign nationals and those from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

According to the report, today there are at least 14 laws and dozens of regulations, legal interpretations and documents regulating the exit ban in mainland China. In addition, China’s new anti-espionage law, which will take effect next month, allows for an exit ban to be imposed on anyone under investigation.

According to my research, in some rare cases, some business people facing a travel ban may find themselves in an indefinite dilemma because the task forces that were set up to investigate these individuals were resolved before the exit ban was lifted.

This explains why some foreign investors and businessmen are increasingly worried. Although deals can go wrong in the normal course of business, disputes must be resolved properly and transparently. The arbitrary and sweeping enforcement of exit bans will hurt China only as leaders scramble to show they are open to doing business abroad.

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Article republished from the media Today think about China under an agreement between the two parties to share content. Original article link:

Former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post (SCMP). She holds a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s degree in English. For 20 years he worked for the China Daily newspaper and was the BBC China correspondent. He is now based in Beijing as SCMP’s editorial advisor.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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