Beijing Enters Lock-Down Mode as Olympics Nears

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June 6 – Although many of the regulations concerning the registration of foreign visitors to China have been in place for decades, the actual enforcement of these often draconian measures now being employed has not been seen in China since the late 1980s. This, compounded by seemingly erratic treatment of business visa applications and coupled with occasional bureaucratic entrepreneurial activities, has meant that the Beijing Olympics are becoming far less likely to be a truly global event and far more a Chinese celebration.

We have received first hand accounts from businessmen attempting to enter China on apparently legitimate commercial trips being turned away, forcing mass cancellation of hotel bookings, and of individuals with seemingly impeccable employment credentials being denied a renewal of work visa. Additional problems from reliable sources indicate Olympic events tickets are being withheld currently from main Olympic sponsors entitled to certain seats in favor of Chinese government officials from other provinces who are “potentially” attending.

The visa issue, heavily reported in the news and on various blogs recently, had previously been thought to be a crackdown on the practice of foreigners living and working in China without going through the correct work visa procedure in order to avoid taxes. While true in the majority of such cases, first hand reports from hoteliers in Beijing reveal the practice of blanket rejections of business visa issuance to legitimate businessmen—including in several cases groups of prominent international bankers due to hold regional board meetings in Beijing—have been taking place. In one instance, we have been made aware of a group of Australian bankers whose collective party was rejected for business visas at a total loss of US$300,000 to the hotel over canceled bookings, as none of the bank’s executives were able to obtain visa clearance. In other cases, we have heard directly from businessmen of certain Asian nationalities, holding legitimate work visas as chief representatives of their companies in China, also being refused entry.

Another prominent Beijing-based businessman, in a senior position with a major international brand and with six years prior China work history and all documentation and tax paid history available, was refused a new work visa on the grounds that he did not possess a university degree. Here, entrepreneurial bureaucracy was able to assist with the payment of a RM$5,000 “fee” to the officials in question to approve the application.

The situation that is developing is indeed echoing one of the worst fears of the international community—that China would use the Olympics, in what should be a global celebration of human sporting achievement, to promote itself instead to its own people rather than to the world. Those fears are looking increasingly likely to be realized at this moment unless some of the inconsistencies of the pertinent security measures can be reined in. The impact on international businessmen attempting to enter China with legitimate commercial interests has been underestimated when balanced against security concerns. China has long wooed multinational corporations to establish Asian regional headquarters in the country. Yet at the same time with Beijing hosting the Olympics, those executives that have been persuaded to do just that—invest in a regional HQ—are being turned away at the front door. Singapore beckons.

We have also heard unconfirmed reports that companies closely tied to the Olympics—such as one of America’s prominent news network, with rights to broadcast the event across the United States, has been experiencing severe difficulties in obtaining visas for its reporters—with the entire team of one national U.S. network denied on their first attempt to obtain visas. Again, from reliable yet unconfirmed sources, we have been made aware that tickets for certain events, which should be earmarked for the Games main international sponsors, have not yet been allocated as the Beijing authorities have not yet received confirmation from their own provincial officials with details of who will attend from China’s other regional governments, officials, relevant personnel and friends. In the meantime, the international business community who sponsored the Beijing Olympics—at costs running to hundreds of millions of dollars—has to wait to see what their allocation will be. That is a major issue with such companies’ executives now unable to plan if they can actually arrive, and then get a ticket to see a particular event.

Regrettably, the whole event, if not dealt with promptly, is demonstrating an all-too familiar sense of old time Chinese paranoia towards the international community, with a common trend developing amongst the collective security agencies that if anything were to go wrong, it would be foreign influences that would have made it so, and not Chinese. That thinking throws directly back to the dark days of the sixties, much of the seventies, and into the late 1980s, and is a state of affairs that China has not demonstrated for a number of years. The pre-Olympics signal China is currently sending out, whether it appreciates this or not, is one of closure, fear, and a massive lack of confidence that it can pull off a major global event with the world actually being able to attend.

The IOC and the international community need to talk to China to assure it that it can. Because the way things are going at this moment, China is going to be holding an international Olympics in 2008 during which being foreign means you are not actually going to be welcome in the country to witness it. The repercussions for foreign belief in China’s on-going development as a bona fide member of the global community if that turns out to be so may take years to mend.

8 thoughts on “Beijing Enters Lock-Down Mode as Olympics Nears

    Scholar says:

    An American executive with a long time legal work record with the biggest American fast food brand in China and also investments in the community here, was denied entry last month at Pudong Security from Hong Kong, where he also has residence. Still no reason, no information. My only guess is that his wife who now lives in HK is a Xinjiang Uyghur.

    Kohaso says:

    What about harassing passport checking of foreigners on the street in Beijing? This is unprecedented. In Beijing, foreigners are required by police to carry on his passport at any time and a certification of residence and police registration. I had my passport with me by chance (actualy I was on my way to make an official procedure to a government office), when I was required to be checked, so I could show it to them, and averything was ok with it and my visa, but I got fined because I was not carrying a certificate of the place I was living in (my own house). Of course, nobody had warned foreigners about that new requirement. My address is in my passport as I live permanently here, and they could check it perfectly.
    The police told me that this was a new policy related to the Olympics.
    And I have to point out that I´m an investor that creates wealth and jobs in China.
    We don´t have to forget that China is by far the source of ilegal aliens (workers) to the rest of the world (with the hidden support of the Chinese government), and without the harassmet the legal foreigners have to stand here. When are the rest of the countries going to press the Chinese government to be fair in it´s treatment of (legal) foreigners, at least as fair as other countries are with the Chinese ones?

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Scholar; as I mentioned, the individual cases seem to make no logical sense, other than petty officials throwing their weight around. To be refused entry because your wife is a Uighur makes no sense of China’s “One China” policy either. The situation you describe is one of many strange inconsistancies we’re heard over the visa issue – although arriving from Hong Kong does seem problematic and we are aware the government there are unhappy about it. Kohaso; actually they used to check foreigners in the street years back, and house visits to check on foreigners and ensure they were registered were common until recently. What is worrying is the fine issue – we were told by the PSB that this would not be introduced until July 1st. We’ve already been made aware of other similar cases and the difficulty with them can often be the difference between an official fine being imposed and the solicitation of cash via harrassment. In our view China has to be very, very careful with these sorts of policies if it is not going to cause itself commercial illwill. But right now, it is obvious that the Chinese government are placing individual commercial business interests – including those made by foreigners – at a far lower level of importance than holding the Olympics. The borderline ‘harrassment’ of foreign businessmen in China was not in the brochure when the Chinese government were looking for investors, and neither was it on the agenda when the IOC and the international community voted to give them the games.

    The Communist Party have been here before, and it took 40 years to reopen the country the last time foreigners had to leave their investments behind. It’s not the signal investors want to hear from a country that has eaten up so much FDI the past 15 years, and their treatment of legitimate foreign businessmen at this moment at best is becoming remarkably shabby. It’s also unnecessary – and that’s the worrrying part: Why ?

    john says:

    I have not had any problems from any government officials , nor have I had my passport checked , and I had a great conversation with the passport checking girl at the boarder.

    That said, it is a requirement to carry identification documents both in Hong Kong And China , and it has been for some decades.

    I have however seen foreigners acting as if they have some sort of special right to be in China, perhaps this is the trigger.

    peter says:

    john, what does you having a great chat with the passport control chick and arrogant foreigners have to do with the apparent problem at hand: a whole lot of confusion and uncertainty for people who have called this place their home for years. this country still is a paranoid dictatorship and no
    the current passport checks in china do not compare with the behaviour of the police in hk. Ur obviously confusing many issues here. Maybe you just haven’t been here long enough…

    Bob Shead says:

    From Shanghai – increasingly foreigners are being targetted leaving their apartments in the morning. Squads of police have been noted early morning outside apartment blocks where lots of foreigners live. As Chris says – this is returning to the bad old days, when all foreigners were regarded with suspicion! My son is having major problems obtaining a Chinese tourist visa from the Embassy in London – so far 2 unsuccessful visits, each taking 4 hours!

    peter says:

    From Shanghai too: I can only confirm Bob’s account. Police has been lingering outside and inside our compounds trying to levy fines on us because we could not produce the yellow slip of paper (registration with the police when you first move to a new apartment). This slip of paper though is taken away by the police when they issue one’s residence permit. Still, the policemen have been asking for this slip and have been threatening fines of up to RMB 5,000 for failing to produce. For me, this request went away when I explained to them their own process. Goes to show that there is a fair amount of profit taking in it for the police. They went to my friend’s house (he is a residence permit holder too) and told him that he actually had to register with the police every time he returns to Shanghai from a business trip (which is totally not true).

    Olympic paranoia? Or is this some kind of attempt to develop an immigration policy? I have lived in China for almost 10 years now and it is close to impossible for us to obtain permanent residency. Instead, our status is reassessed on an annual basis. Hardly enough to make one feel welcome in this country.

    LoveChinaLongTime says:

    The IOC doing anything??? Hahahahahaha

    They were bought off ages ago and in complete cahoots with the CCP masters. Their record of exemplary ethical behavior makes the CCP officials look like Boy Scouts!!!

    My belief is that the Chinese want absolutely NO foreigners in China to attend the games (for fear of the unexpected “incident” AND thier natural xenophobia) and don’t want them to return either in the years afterwards.

    “Thanks for the FDI…we’ll take over that facotry now…”

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