China warns citizens of U.S. travel danger as trade spat deepens

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (June 4): China issued a travel advisory on the U.S. through the end of the year, amid spiraling trade tensions between the two countries.

The country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism cited recent “frequent” shootings, robbery and theft in America as the reason for its alert, according to the official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday.

The travel warning was spurred by difficulties Chinese nationals are encountering while in the U.S., Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing. Asked if the move was part of the protracted trade dispute, Geng said it was a response to “current circumstances.”

The advisory came a day after China warned its students studying in the U.S. to be vigilant as the Trump administration steps up restrictions on academic visas and intensifies its scrutiny of Chinese researchers working in America.

‘Take More Precautions’

“Recently, U.S. law enforcement agencies have repeatedly harassed Chinese citizens visiting the United States through exit and entry inspections, door-to-door interviews and other means,” state-run China Central Television reported Tuesday, citing the Foreign Ministry.

“The Foreign Ministry and Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States remind Chinese citizens and Chinese-funded institutions in the United States to raise security awareness and take more precautions,” it said.

The Culture and Tourism Ministry issued a similar notice against traveling to Canada in January, as diplomatic ties frayed following Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver at America’s request. It cited Meng’s detention as the reason for its advisory, urging Chinese tourists to fully assess the risks before traveling to the North American country.

Chinese tourism to the U.S. had been falling even before the advisory. Three million Chinese tourists traveled to the U.S. in 2018, down from 3.2 million the previous year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, which collects data from U.S. customs forms.

But Chinese citizens still spent more while stateside: US$36.4 billion in 2018 — up from US$35.3 billion the year before — making them the biggest spenders of all international tourists.

Deepening Tensions

Tensions between the U.S. and China have deepened in recent weeks, after trade negotiations between them fell apart in early May. The Trump administration has since blacklisted China’s crown jewel, Huawei Technologies Co., and is considering similar restrictions on more of the country’s tech firms.

While stopping short of issuing a travel advisory, China’s Foreign Ministry warned travelers last October that U.S. customs enforcement officers had the right to check their belongings such as bags, electronic devices and autos without a search warrant. It also issued safety tips to Chinese tourists travelling to the remote U.S. territory of Saipan after a typhoon in November.

China has also frequently used bans on tourism as an economic weapon. It targeted South Korea in 2017, banning package trips to its neighbour in a show of dissatisfaction over its deploying of a U.S.-backed missile system. The ban shaved 0.4 percentage points off Korea’s economic growth that year.

Big Spenders

The move will likely deepen the pressure already being felt by consumer and retail companies in the U.S. who’ve been traditionally reliant on big-spending Chinese tourists to prop up sales.

PVH Corp, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, plunged the most in a decade last week, after trimming its revenue outlook. It blamed the escalating tariffs battle for causing anxiety for both American and Chinese shoppers.

American jeweler Tiffany & Co said late last year that lower spending by tourists, particularly from China, to its flagship store in New York was a factor for its results missing analysts’ estimates.