The Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a stark new travel warning for visitors to China, saying Australians run the risk of arbitrary detention amid heightening tensions between the two nations.
DFAT shared the upgraded advice on its Smartraveller website on Tuesday night, recommending any Australians wishing to return home “do so as soon as possible by commercial mean..”
The advisory warned that Chinese authorities “have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’.”
“Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention,” DFAT said.
The warning from the federal government was followed up by news out of the US on Wednesday morning that the head of the FBI was warning Beijing spies are strong-arming Chinese nationals living abroad.
In a speech about the security threat posed by China, FBI director Christopher Wray said Chinese people living in the US had been threatened and even told to choose between going home or killing themselves.
He said President Xi Jinping has “spearheaded” a program called Fox Hunt targeting Chinese people who speak out against Beijing’s political and human rights policies.
Mr Wray also said that almost half of nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases now underway are related to China.
“We’ve now reached a point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours,” he said in his speech to the Hudson Institute think tank.
Warnings for Australians
Last month, Australian man Karm Gilespie was sentenced to death on drug charges – but he was held in secret detention since 2013.
— Smartraveller (@Smartraveller) July 7, 2020
International travel from Australia without a special exemption is still banned over coronavirus concerns, with authorities recommending against going overseas as a general rule.
DFAT said “we haven’t changed our level of advice” regarding travel to China, but the warning over arbitrary detention does represent a significant upgrade of the China-specific advice.
It comes as diplomatic and trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra continue to ramp up.
It is exactly one month after China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism warned its citizens they should “not travel to Australia” due to “racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asian people” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Just last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government was “very actively” considering offering safe haven visas to Hong Kong residents following new Chinese national security laws targeting pro-democracy protesters.
Chinese and Australian government officials have been involved in a simmering standoff following Morrison’s call for an international inquiry into Beijing’s handling of the COVID outbreak.
Chinese authorities slammed the idea, following up with trade sanctions – such as banning imports of beef from four Australian abattoirs, and announcing plans to place tariffs on Australian barley – in response in May.