Chinese civil servants and employees of state-linked enterprises are facing stricter restrictions on private travel abroad and scrutiny of their foreign connections, as Beijing intensifies its campaign against foreign influence. Since 2021, the measures have included bans on overseas travel, stricter limits on trip frequency and duration, onerous approval processes, and pre-departure confidentiality training.
These measures are unrelated to COVID-19. Despite China reopening borders in January, the individuals’ accounts varied but were consistent in describing heightened scrutiny of overseas travel. Eight government entities, including the national pension fund, have made public announcements in the past two years indicating increased rules for workers’ personal trips outside China.
Other individual accounts and documentation reviewed a parallel effort by central and local Chinese authorities to map government and state-linked workers’ personal and family ties to other countries. China’s President Xi Jinping has emphasized national security amid strained West relations, encouraging citizens to engage in anti-espionage activities and introducing new laws broadening spying definitions.
China’s restrictions on personal foreign travel are now filtering down the ranks of civil servants and state-enterprise workers, according to Reuters. Lower-level workers at China Construction Bank in Beijing and Shanghai can travel abroad for personal reasons only once a year and for up to 12 days. These restrictions were discovered when applying for time off in early 2023.
Public school teachers in China are facing new restrictions on overseas trips, with one branch of the China Development Bank banning such trips this year, New hires in Hong Kong and Singapore are being subjected to travel restrictions.
Official notices by a government affairs unit in eastern Ningbo City and the National Council for Social Security Fund earlier this year emphasize tougher vetting of employees’ requests for personal trips overseas. In eastern Wenzhou city, a branch of the Municipal Eco-Environment Bureau published revised rules in September last year, stating that employees can travel abroad only once a year and for no longer than a month.
Chinese authorities are reportedly monitoring officials’ observations outside China, which could potentially influence their thinking and awareness. Wang Zhi’an, a former Chinese state television anchor, suggests that this exposure could lead officials to question the Communist Party’s management system and question its practices. Additionally, Chinese authorities are scrutinizing personal foreign ties, with individuals receiving questionnaires from bodies such as the Communist Youth League, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC), local authorities, and their employers.
The forms ask for information on relatives with foreign nationality or overseas permanent residence, and details of foreign assistance or experience. China has implemented travel restrictions to curb foreign influence, following a warning of potential recruitment for Chinese nationals.
The measures, backed by former Chinese state-enterprise worker Thomas, could impact China’s global interactions, as less travel could limit officials’ learning from foreign governments, familiarity with foreign societies, and understanding of China’s global perception.