Blinken to raise risks for American travelers on trip to Beijing

The Biden administration is unlikely to ease high-level travel warnings for China unless the country takes concrete steps to address safety concerns, a senior administration official told The Hill ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing this week.

Blinken will raise with Chinese officials steps they must take before the State Department lowers its Level 3 travel warning for American tourists, which urges Americans to “reconsider travel.” The State Department has four warning levels; the fourth is “do not travel.”

“The current travel advisory warning for the [People’s Republic of China] is based on a range of concerns about how Chinese law has been applied in a certain sector, about the detention of certain American citizens, and other cases that have caused us concern,” a senior administration official said in response to a question from The Hill last week, briefing reporters ahead of Blinken’s trip.

“I’m confident that the secretary will raise these concerns while he’s in China. And it is the case, really with any country around the world, if we find that those conditions … are addressed, and through addressing those concerns there’s a material impact on the conditions that resulted in that warning level, we’ll, of course, reevaluate and, as appropriate, adjust.”

Earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said there is “active consideration” for lowering the travel warning for China, acknowledging that the travel advisories have inhibited people-to-people ties in general, and in academia in particular.

“Some degree of academic exchange is very much in our interests, and I support that and I support steps to increase those opportunities in exchanges as we go forward,” he said at a panel interview hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

While nearly 300,000 Chinese students are studying in the U.S., only 700 American students are studying in China, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in December.

“An American leadership in the future that is cut off from China, that hasn’t had an experience there, that doesn’t speak Mandarin — that’s not in the national interest. So we’re trying to put our students back together,” Burns said, speaking at the Brookings Institution.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, after meeting with President Biden in Woodside, Calif., in November, said he wants to see at least 50,000 American students study in China over the next five years.

The drop in Americans in China is a result of security concerns and the exodus of Americans following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s restrictive travel policies have put up hurdles to Americans returning to the country.

At least three Americans are considered wrongfully detained in China, including Texas businessman Mark Swidan, Chinese American businessman Kai Li from Long Island, N.Y., and California pastor David Lin.

The senior administration official said “specific cases” will be raised during Blinken’s trip, which is expected to take place April 24-26.

“We’ve raised concerns about specific cases involving detentions and exit bans, raised concerns about the opaque and arbitrary application of certain national security laws, and we’ll continue to raise those concerns,” the official said.

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