China Uses Passports as Political Cudgel

The Chinese made a record 83 million trips abroad last year, reflecting the increasing prosperity of the country’s growing middle class. But at least 14 million people, mostly Tibetans and Uyghurs, are denied the chance to leave China by apparently politically motivated rejections of passport applications. Others outside the country, meanwhile, are denied the right to return. From Andrew Jacobs at The New York Times:

Sun Wenguang, a retired economics professor from Shandong Province, was not among those venturing overseas, however. And not by choice. An author whose books offer a critical assessment of Communist Party rule, Mr. Sun, 79, has been repeatedly denied a passport without explanation.

“I’d love to visit my daughter in America and my 90-year-old brother in Taiwan, but the authorities have other ideas,” he said. “I feel like I’m living in a cage.”

[…] “It’s just another way to punish people they don’t like,” said Wu Zeheng, a government critic and Buddhist spiritual leader from southern Guangdong Province whose failed entreaties to obtain a passport have prevented him from accepting at least a dozen speaking invitations in Europe and North America.

China’s passport restrictions extend to low-level military personnel, Tibetan monks and even the security personnel who process passport applications. “I feel so jealous when I see all my friends taking vacations in Singapore or Thailand but the only way I could join them is to quit my job,” said a 28-year-old police detective in Beijing.

Chen Guangcheng’s brother and mother have both recently had passport applications rejected, according to Lin Jing at Radio Free Asia. Chen Guangfu and Wang Jinxiang still hope to be able to visit the legal activist in New York, where he went to study following his dramatic escape from illegal house arrest last April.

“The authorities wouldn’t accept our application, and of course we are very disappointed,” Chen Guangfu said in an interview this week, after the family’s request was rejected earlier this month.

“My mother knows that she won’t have many more opportunities to go and see her son in the U.S., and she wanted to go while her health still allowed it,” he said.

Chen Guangfu said the authorities had told the family that it was very hard to get visas to the United States, and that the family were unlikely to be issued a visa without an invitation letter.

[…] Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said the reasons given by police, who must approve all applications for passports in the first instance, were ridiculous.

[…] “The reasons given by police were laughable…It’s for U.S. consular officials to decide whether or not to issue a visa.”

See also an interview at The Atlantic with Columbia University’s Robert Barnett on denial of passports to Tibetans, via CDT.