Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Why China is banning a bunch of Americans from the country — and using the mistake to show the U.S. a little bit of its own power

Dear Ava: I met this crew last Thursday night and they’re super cool. They’re from a travel agency outside of London and they are hosting a Tinder event for American men in the city. Oh, and they’re also local interesting ladies. I was just looking forward to the date part — meeting some new people and, I hope, striking up a conversation — when the ban came down. We’ve had a longstanding, uneasy relationship. I had

arranged for a driver who was actually from Seoul to meet us up, but the driver got the message immediately and boarded his plane — the one with several dozen people on it — without telling us. The ban was sudden and came out of nowhere. A few hours later, after we’d seen a flight attendant, we were told that the first group of hotel guests were “banned” from being the group (which included me). I read through the

official government site and discovered that I wasn’t alone. Several more men, and women, have gotten the same ban. In fact, this seems to be the only way out they have. My preferred method of travel for work purposes, going to Cambodia and Thailand, seems like a pipe dream. I want to tell you my side of this. This is happening right now. It feels like a nightmare. These seem like these guys have been caged, in my

opinion. I know you guys know a lot about domestic Chinese politics, so I know that what’s really going on here. I even met one of the baners, and I’m going to have to interview him because, I’m afraid to say it, I feel awful. Do you think this ban is real, or just an overreaction? Love, Foreigner Dear Foreigner: I’m getting the impression that we’re talking about some serendipitous fluke here, a chance Trump-fueled

misunderstanding. Foreigners are banned by the Chinese government for a lot of reasons — they are business partners with Chinese individuals or companies; they have violated intellectual property laws; they’ve committed crimes. Sometimes they’re even caught doing things they shouldn’t. These folks aren’t singled out for what they’re doing, but in the parlance of a country where popular culture often runs to levels of

tedium, China is a hoarder. There’s an urgency there. Any booze or beautiful people get shared out. In their minds, it’s the only way they could check out truly errant individuals. It’s also unusual. There are no regulations here dictating to Americans what they’re allowed to do in China and when — though, if I remember correctly, American females are super-detailed and fly in pretty regular numbers. In the city of

Beijing, it was illegal for women to remain standing in front of the telephone booths for more than three minutes or stand on a roof for longer than 45 minutes. Just a small detail, but weirdly strict. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard anecdotally that most Americans are not denied entry. It seems to me that as a result of posting complaints on social media about this, there’s now at least one shady few breaking the

rule. Did they, or did they not, think it through? I’m guessing no, because if they had, maybe a few local bros wouldn’t get the message. You can’t be in China and not know. They might have had no issue with us, and we didn’t. It’s just that the judge caught us doing something foreign. Which is what our driver found out. The ban might, in some small way, help China identify those who are unbearably colorful. Those

might be the next flimsiest skirts. — Phillip Gordon is a Post columnist, a former Clinton administration official and an expert on Chinese foreign policy.

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