It has been Beijing’s tried and true strategy to curtail the flow of its nationals as well as their tourism dollars heading for overseas destinations as a way to deplete the fortunes of those nations with which there is an unresolved row.
For instance, Beijing mandated its travel agencies to halve quotas of guided groups to Taiwan after voters selected an independence-leaning president, and to South Korea after Seoul agreed to install a missile defense system imported from the US. Tourism industries in those two places soon took a battering.
This time, it appears that the catering, hospitality and entertainment sectors in the US are in Beijing’s crosshairs.
Beijing’s embassy in Washington has sent a “warm remainder” to its nationals visiting the US that cities there are teeming with thugs and criminals, and that robbery, theft and gun violence are getting out of control, in a go-there-at-your-own-peril notice posted on its website at the end of June.
“Always stay alert [for] suspicious people in your surroundings and avoid going out on your own late at night,” said the embassy, adding that one should call 911 in case of emergency and keep on speaking Mandarin so as to be answered by an operator who can speak the language.
Amid the fierce polemics between Beijing and Washington concerning trade and tariffs, Chinese media have started a seemingly coordinated campaign badmouthing US tourism this week, with some papers even urging Chinese tourists to take a detour to the tumultuous Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China instead.
This is against a backdrop that Washington’s first list of Chinese goods to be levied tariffs worth US$34 billion will come into effect this Friday, June 6.
On forums popular among tourists, people asked if Beijing was suggesting that New York City or California is more dangerous than Xinjiang.
Xinjiang has been engulfed in a string of attacks over the past decade as separatists sought to exact revenge on Beijing’s policies aimed at assimilating locals. There is also concern of a spillover of terrorism from Xinjiang to major cities and provinces across China.
Meanwhile, the number of Chinese tourists crossing the Pacific to the US surged almost sixfold, from 525,000 in 2009 to more than 3 million in 2016, according to the US Department of Commerce.
Before the US government started to tighten visa policies, many big-spending Chinese had been given 10-year multiple-entry visas.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference on Monday that the reminder from the embassy in Washington was meant to inform Chinese visitors of “potential risks” when there would be a spike in trips to the US during summer.
He declined to confirm whether Chinese travel agencies had been told to reduce travel groups to the US, but the state-owned China Travel Service has quietly pulled ads about US trips from its website.