Visa Madness All Over Again.

Moments ago, I received a phone call from the organizers of a major industry conference and exhibition scheduled for Beijing in late May. For the sake of the people involved, I’m not going to name the conference or the industry, except to note that it is a very, very big industry employing many, many Chinese people in factories receiving a whole lot of Chinese economic stimulus funds. As for the conference: it’s being sponsored by a major Chinese trade group, several major Chinese state-owned enterprises, a notable division of Xinhua, several major foreign trade publications, and one foreign newswire. The people who own and operate companies in this industry (or, heck, analyze them) are not, generally, rabble-rousers. Indeed, they tend to be very conservative, verging on boring, with a strong preference for what some people like to call “stability.” Anyway, until a few minutes ago, I was a confirmed attendee at this conference. Then I had this conversation:

Conference Rep: “Are you aware that this year is the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party?” [actually, the founding of the PRC, but that’s the anniversary he commemorated on the phone.]

Me: “Yes.”

Conf. Rep: “Because of this, I’m sorry but we must postpone our conference until November.”

Me: “Really?”

Conf. Rep: “Many of our international participants will not be able to get visas due to the anniversary. Because of this we must postpone.”

Me: “Not get visas?”

Conf. Rep: “Yes, because of the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party the visa policy changes. So we will postpone until November. Perhaps you can attend then?” [again, stating the wrong anniversary, but you get the point]

Even short memories will recall the Olympics-related visa restrictions from last year (see here, and countless other places). Then, the authorities were concerned with disrupting anyone who might care to disrupt a high profile international event. They may very well have succeeded; I don’t know. But what I do know – and so does everyone in Beijing who hoped to make a buck off Olympic tourism – is that they also succeeded in dissuading tourists from visiting China. Fine and good. Now, the 60th anniversary of the PRC is not the Olympics – that is, it’s not an international event – but one can argue that, in light of the global financial crisis, China needs international visitors now more than ever. After all: Hotel vacancies are on the rise; FDI is down; exports are down. At the same time, the US, China’s most important trading partner, is finally showing a willingness to approach China pragmatically, instead of ideologically. I don’t claim to understand a tightening of visas under these circumstances, but I can’t imagine that it helps it economically, or diplomatically, over the next several months. For context, consider some recent writings (start here, then go here) on the adverse impact of visa restrictions on US high-tech recruiting.

[For additional info on the new visa crackdown, see this post – from today! – at Shanghaiist.]

[Update: And yes, it did not escape me that late May is just a page-turn away from an event far more sensitive to the 60-year-old party.]

9 comments

  1. Yes, Leo, I’m aware of the anniversary I’m talking about. Note that the clarifying notes along the way. The conference representative, however, referred to it as the anniversary of the founding of the party, and that’s how I’m going to report it. Accuracy is important around here. But just to make things clear: it’s the 60th anniversary of the PRC.

  2. It’s amazing how the CCP thinks everything revolves around it. Who cares if its their 60th anniversary? Not even most Chinese people care.

  3. I think Leo is speaking of a certain 20th anniversary that will occur in early June that is especially sensitive in Beijing, which would make sense given the late May conference date.

  4. Hey Ed – I wondered about that after I posted my comment. I made a reference to that early June event in a parenthetical at the end of the post, though perhaps the reference was a bit too vague. Anyway, yes, I agree. That’s the issue here.

  5. “It’s amazing how the CCP thinks everything revolves around it. Who cares if its their 60th anniversary? Not even most Chinese people care.”

    This year is the CCP’s 88th anniversary, in fact. A very auspicious number.

  6. I was a bit worried when I read your post, but I am happy to report I was granted a (single-entry) F visa today in Canada.
    I specifically said I wanted to enter China in May (for 30 days), which could have spread into early June.
    I showed my last three multiple-entry one-year F visas, and it seemed sufficient.
    I didn’t have an invitation letter to push for the multiple-entry, but I will try that after October 1!
    Whew!

  7. Interesting. I hadn’t heard anything yet here in HK. We just applied for visas for our family last week and were granted one-week multiple-entry visas, no problem. However, we are not business people, nor are we going to Beijing, so maybe that makes a difference . . . .

  8. Thank you, reading your post makes me feel better about doing visa work here in the UK – reminding me that government inefficiency is a relatively small issue!

Comments are closed.