By Eva Dou and Julie Wernau
BEIJING -- China advised its citizens to reconsider visiting or studying in the U.S., a sign that Beijing might be targeting the lucrative tourism and education sectors as it tries to pressure Washington in their trade dispute.
Chinese government ministries issued several advisories this week about going to the U.S. On Monday, the Education Ministry cited delays and rejections by the U.S. in issuing visas; it urged "students and scholars to strengthen risk assessments before going abroad to study."
And Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry noted many complaints from Chinese citizens about interrogations by U.S. law-enforcement agents when entering, leaving and while inside the U.S., and it advised Chinese traveling to the U.S. to raise their safety awareness. A spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism also issued a safety warning, citing America's frequent "shootings, robberies and thefts."
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.
The Trump administration has raised its scrutiny of visas for students from China in the past two years and voiced concerns about academic exchanges serving as a conduit for espionage. Chinese scholars have complained about the difficulty in obtaining visas or their existing visas being canceled.
Still, the advisories are being issued as the U.S. and China pile new punitive tariffs on each other's goods and exchange recriminations for an impasse in talks to resolve the trade conflict.
In recent weeks, Beijing has been seeking other ways to pressure the U.S., with officials, for example, suggesting China might bar exports to the U.S. of processed rare earths, which are used in many high-tech goods. It has used travel advisories and safety warnings in past diplomatic quarrels, issuing notices in the past year against Sweden, Canada and New Zealand.
"These warnings are political in nature. They recognize the importance of Chinese tourists, and it's one way that they can impact on policies or on global politics," said Marie Tulloch, senior client services manager at Emerging Communications, a U.K.-based Chinese marketing consulting firm.
Tuesday's travel warnings fell on the 30th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrators, and the occasion also sparked a sharp exchange between the U.S. and China.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to "make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing" in 1989. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang shot back: "These lunatic ravings and babbling nonsense will only end up in the trash can of history."
China is the largest source of both tourism dollars and international students to the U.S., according to U.S. International Trade Administration and the Institute of International Education.
Ms. Tulloch said Chinese tourists and students are an economic force, with their spending having a big impact on retailers, and luxury brands in particular. For each Chinese student who goes to study and live abroad, she said, they will bring three visitors to that destination each year on average, and each visitor will spend more than $2,000 per visit.
During the 2017-18 school year, 363,341 Chinese students moved to the U.S. to study, a 3.6% increase year-over-year, the lowest growth rate for Chinese students moving abroad in the past five years of data, according to the Institute of International Education.
Last year, Chinese tourists made about 162 million outbound trips, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Those tourists spent $30 billion in the U.S., said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The trade dispute is another factor for many Chinese, who in the past year have pulled back spending due to a slowing economy.
Over the recent May Day holiday for Chinese, the U.S. dropped from the fifth-most-popular destination to the ninth, due to the trade tensions, according to China's biggest travel agent, Ctrip.com International Ltd. According to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office, which collects data from government Customs forms, the number of arrivals by Chinese visitors fell by 5.7% in 2018 from a year earlier.
As more Chinese students flocked to the U.S. during the past decade, their encounters with crime have been a frequent topic in Chinese media. As relations have soured with the U.S. more recently, state media have also focused on gun crimes and other violence.
China's consulate in New York issued a safety warning Tuesday, saying Massachusetts authorities notified it of the recent killing of a Chinese citizen.
At a daily media briefing Tuesday, Mr. Geng from the Foreign Ministry said the advisories about studying in the U.S. were warranted following recent harassment and visa restrictions of Chinese students and scholars. "If there is no need, China would not do so," he said of the travel warning.
--Jeremy Page contributed to this article.
Write to Eva Dou at firstname.lastname@example.org and Julie Wernau at Julie.Wernau@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 04, 2019 10:37 ET (14:37 GMT)
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