Jeff Wasserstrom acknowledges himself as the China specialist but even it is difficult for him to imagine moving to China as frequently as he used to. He is considering not to visit the scary place again in his life or as long as President Xi Jinping is controlling the nation.
For his profession, the American professor had visited China several times. He even stayed there for a while. Until 2018, he was living in China and learning about the diversity in the flow of a huge population. He didn’t become a lightning rod for Taiwan or Tibet’s political issues that could get sabotaged by Beijing’s wrath; he just wrote about the cultural diversity he found in the mainland. He discussed briefly student protests in China and that was all it took to stir up a hornet’s nest within the panel of the Communist Party. Communist people were “clearly upset with” his propaganda to deliver a new look on mainland China.
It was an unresolved issue three years ago and it made him wonder if his visa application would be rejected purposely for the controversial issue. Now he thinks that crossing the border is too risky because he might end up in jail with a long period of detention.
Wasserstrom says that the consequences are very serious even when the flaws are “pretty minimal.” These detentions are so grave that the detained person will be locked up for several years without making any contact with their families. There will not be any trial date provided to find out if he/she was guilty.
More people like him feel threatened about their safety. Some academics and NGO workers who had to make frequent multiple trips to China because of their professional demands have directly said that they are not willing to step on the landscape even after the pandemic restrictions resolve.
China has recently detained a number of foreigners which eventually has increased the fear of individual safety among the foreign traders. President Xi has created hostile nationalism which has imparted extreme hostility towards other western governments. The act of detention of two Canadians in China was the epitome of fear making people changing their further plans about visiting China.
Michael Kovrig, an NGO worker and former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, who organized trips to North Korea, were detained after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was taken to custody in Vancouver.
William Nee, an American who works for NGO China Human Rights Defenders, said: “It’s not really a question only of, ‘What are the things I have been doing that may have contributed to my getting detained?’ It’s also a question of, ‘What is my nationality? What have the politicians from my country have been saying?’”
“If they’re willing to arbitrarily detain someone who was a very moderate, thoughtful academic, or a think tank type of person then it’s difficult to see how anyone can feel safe.”