US warns citizens of “increased risk of arbitrary detention” in China as tensions between the two countries escalate on issues such as the Hong Kong coronavirus pandemic and alleged violations rights of the Muslim minority population of Xinjiang and residents of Tibet.
The State Department did not specify what triggered the new security alert, which was launched to US citizens in China on Saturday.
US citizens could face “extended interrogation and extended detention” for reasons related to state security, the alert said.
“Security personnel can arrest and / or deport American citizens for sending private electronic messages criticizing the Chinese government,” he added, without citing specific examples.
The alert comes as bilateral tensions have intensified between Beijing and Washington over issues ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic, to trade and allegations of human rights violations against Uighurs in the Xinjiang region and communities in Tibet.
US President Donald Trump said on Friday that relations between the United States and China have been “severely damaged” in recent months.
Meanwhile, Beijing has repeatedly accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs.
Adding to the hostility, a controversial security law imposed on the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong by the Chinese central government in June has sparked international concern. The law prohibits subversive acts and speeches against the Chinese government made anywhere in the world.
Deterioration of relationships
The most recent decision comes days after Washington imposed visa bans on Chinese officials accused of restricting foreigners’ access to Tibet. Beijing responded by saying that it banned “American individuals with egregious behavior related to the problems of Tibet.”
Australia and Canada have also recently issued travel warnings about fears of arbitrary detention by Beijing.
Last year, China arrested Australian-Chinese writer Yang Hengjun, who was indicted earlier this year for spying.
China also arrested two Canadians after Canada arrested a senior leader of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei in late 2018.
Beijing did not comment on the warning to American travelers, but on Wednesday called Australia’s alert on the risk of arbitrary detention in China “completely ridiculous and misinformation”.