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Exit Bans When Doing Business in China

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This article investigates and measures the frequency, fairness, and efficacy of exit bans in China. We limit our definition of "exit bans" to civil business disputes between a foreign businessperson and his or her local Chinese counterpart, where the foreigner is prevented from leaving China. A traveler typically learns of an exit ban at the airport when he or she is not allowed to board a flight; accordingly, an exit ban is distinct from a debt hostage situation in which the foreigner's freedom of movement within the country is restricted. To conduct our study, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (or their equivalents) to six Western governments of countries that engage in significant trade with China and whose citizens were subjected to an exit ban preventing them from leaving China. We also conducted a separate content search and analysis of English and Mandarin media articles that discuss exit ban situations in China. Our analysis yields five primary findings. (1) The data reveal at least 128 total cases, and approximately one-third of the cases were driven by business disputes. It is likely that many more of the 128 cases were caused by business disputes, but because much of the data we received from government agencies was provided in aggregate form, we were unable to verify the driving force behind such cases. (2) In the business-related cases, Chinese authorities generally appeared to follow applicable exit ban laws and application processes, thereby pushing back on the narrative that local norms and a culture of ignoring the law trump the legal mandates issued from Beijing. (3) Most exit bans took place in Tier 1 cities or coastal regions (where more foreign business activity is concentrated), although scattered cases occurred in more remote locations, thus indicating that foreign business interests may be at risk in cities of diverse sizes throughout China. (4) The concern within the international business community that the term "responsible person" under Chinese exit ban law would be abused by authorities to also restrict the movement of non-senior level businesspeople finds some limited confirmation in our data, although most exit ban cases we located were brought against senior-level executives. (5) Approximately two-thirds of the exit ban cases uncovered in our media searches involved business disputes in standard or commoditized industries, not specialized or high-value-add industries (our FOIA data was not sufficiently granular in terms of type of business or industry). Relying on these findings, the article concludes with four practical recommendations that business leaders can use to better evaluate and manage exit ban risks in China.
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Exit Bans When Doing Business in China
Chris Carr & Jack Wroldsen
This article underwent blind peer review and the revise and resubmit process at the Thunderbird International
Business Review. This document is an earlier draft-working paper. A final version of the article was accepted for
publication and is forthcoming. How to cite this working paper: Chris Carr & Jack Wroldsen, Exit Bans When
Doing Business in China, Thunderbird International Business Review (working paper) (2022). For a courtesy copy
of the final and published version of the article that appears in print or online, please email the authors directly.
Abstract:
This article investigates and measures the frequency, fairness, and efficacy of exit bans in China.
We limit our definition of “exit bansto civil business disputes between a foreign businessperson
and his or her local Chinese counterpart, where the foreigner is prevented from leaving China. A
traveler typically learns of an exit ban at the airport when he or she is not allowed to board a flight;
accordingly, an exit ban is distinct from a debt hostage situation in which the foreigner’s freedom
of movement within the country is restricted.
To conduct our study, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (or their
equivalents) to six Western governments of countries that engage in significant trade with China
and whose citizens were subjected to an exit ban preventing them from leaving China. We also
conducted a separate content search and analysis of English and Mandarin media articles that
discuss exit ban situations in China.
Our analysis yields five primary findings. (1) The data reveal at least 128 total cases, and
approximately one-third of the cases were driven by business disputes. It is likely that many more
of the 128 cases were caused by business disputes, but because much of the data we received from
government agencies was provided in aggregate form, we were unable to verify the driving force
behind such cases. (2) In the business-related cases, Chinese authorities generally appeared to
follow applicable exit ban laws and application processes, thereby pushing back on the narrative
that local norms and a culture of ignoring the law trump the legal mandates issued from Beijing.
(3) Most exit bans took place in Tier 1 cities or coastal regions (where more foreign business
activity is concentrated), although scattered cases occurred in more remote locations, thus
indicating that foreign business interests may be at risk in cities of diverse sizes throughout China.
(4) The concern within the international business community that the term “responsible person”
under Chinese exit ban law would be abused by authorities to also restrict the movement of non-
senior level businesspeople finds some limited confirmation in our data, although most exit ban
cases we located were brought against senior-level executives. (5) Approximately two-thirds of
the exit ban cases uncovered in our media searches involved business disputes in standard or
commoditized industries, not specialized or high-value-add industries (our FOIA data was not
sufficiently granular in terms of type of business or industry).
Relying on these findings, the article concludes with four practical recommendations that
business leaders can use to better evaluate and manage exit ban risks in China.
Key Words: China, Exit Ban, Travel Ban, Foreigner, Freedom of Information Act
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Author contact
Chris Carr, Professor
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Orfalea College of Business (Building 3, Room 442)
1 Grand Avenue
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
Email: ccarr@calpoly.edu
Telephone: (805) 756-2657
Fax: (805) 756-1473
Chris Carr, J.D. is a professor of business law in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly,
San Luis Obispo. He teaches courses on U.S. and international business law, and launched the
college's MBA global business and undergraduate global supply chain courses to China.
Professor Carr remains an active member of the California bar and advises clients doing business
in China and Asia. He has consulted as a Fulbright Senior Specialist with top engineering,
science and business universities in Tunisia, Pakistan and Mongolia. Professor Carr also served
as the 2017 U.S. - Italy Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Business at the University of Naples -
Parthenope.
Author contact
Jack Wroldsen, Assistant Professor
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Orfalea College of Business (Building 3, Room 440)
1 Grand Avenue
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
Email: jwroldse@calpoly.edu
Telephone: (805) 756-7617
Fax: (805) 756-1473
Jack Wroldsen, J.D., M.Ed. is an assistant professor of business law in the Orfalea College of
Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He teaches courses on business regulation and
technology law. Professor Wroldsen previously practiced law in Colorado and worked and
studied in South America.
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Exit Bans When Doing Business in China
“[An Irish businessman] has been barred from leaving China for almost two years
after being caught up in a legal row involving the Chinese shareholder of a Dublin
aviation-leasing firm he works for.1
1. INTRODUCTION
Chinese authorities have broad discretion to impose exit bans that prevent a traveler from leaving
China. The traveler often does not learn that an exit ban has been put in place until he or she
arrives at the airport to depart the country. An exit ban does not require that the foreigner be
detained or incarcerated, only that the foreigner be prevented from leaving the country. In Part 2,
we outline current Chinese laws on exit bans, as they apply against foreigners.
Although exit bans in China are used in a wide range of situations, often with political or
diplomatic motivations, this article focuses only on exit bans designed to pressure a foreign
businessperson to resolve a civil business dispute with a local Chinese company (Pfeifer, 2011;
U.S. State Department). In Part 3, we further define exit bans and explain our methodology to
gather exit ban data for this study. Part 4 then presents our findings, strategic recommendations,
and certain limitations of our study. Part 5 concludes and suggests directions for future research.
In view of the very real practice of exit bans in China, and the piecemeal data on the subject, our
research pursues two goals. First, we gather targeted data on exit bans in China in an attempt to
assess the frequency of exit bans in the business context. Second, from our data, we attempt to
determine how closely Chinese exit ban laws are followed, and the efficacy and fairness of how
those laws are applied in practice.
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To set the stage for our analysis, below we briefly highlight two examples of exit bans from our
data set. All of our exit ban data is summarized in the Appendices.
In one case, John Graham Harper, an Australian citizen, had been living in China for a number of
years and was detained at the airport while attempting to board a flight to the Philippines
(Appendix B, Media Search Results, Case # 8). The reason cited for Mr. Harper’s detention was
a pending civil case against hima case Mr. Harper did not even know had been filedrelated
to a business Mr. Harper had sold to a Chinese citizen prior to his detention at the airport. Mr.
Harper was held for 90 minutes in a room where “two immigration officers filmed him and
started making phone calls. He was not allowed to ask questions and no one told him what was
going on” (Smith, 2019). Mr. Harper was then released and allowed to resume his life in China
temporarily, until the police showed up at an event Mr. Harper was hosting and threatened to
arrest him, at the direction of the plaintiff in the still-pending civil lawsuit. After over two years
of not being able to leave the country, Mr. Harper eventually determined his only way out of the
predicament was to agree to pay the money allegedly owed (Expat Rights, 2020; Smith, 2019).
A second example relates to Brian Horowitz, an American businessman traveling to China for
business meetings, who was stopped at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport and told he
could not board his flight until a civil case against him was resolved (Appendix B, Media Search
Results, Case #20). Like Mr. Harper, Mr. Horowitz also did not learn of the lawsuit or the exit
ban until he was stopped at the airport. Mr. Horowitz’s civil case related to a contract dispute
with a Chinese supplier that had sold a product to Mr. Horowitz’s company. Ultimately, out of
legal options and stuck in China for nearly two weeks, Mr. Horowitz’s wife, who had remained
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in the U.S. during Mr. Horowitz’s business trip, wired $250,000 so Mr. Horowitz would be
allowed to leave the country (Pfeifer, 2011).
2. LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF EXIT BAN LAWS APPLIED TO FOREIGNERS
The legal framework surrounding China’s exit ban law is fragmented, and many foreigners (and
even locals) subjected to an exit ban complain about its opacity and unfairness (Kellogg, 2019).
Nonetheless, three key legal provisions form the backbone of exit ban law in China, dating from
the 1980s, 2005, and 2012. Each is summarized in Section 2.1 below.
Typical timeframes for the duration of exit bans are three or six months, although a concrete time
limit is not always specified (Habicht, 2019). Chinese legal guidance from the Explanations
Concerning the ‘Notification to Prevent Emigration at Ports,’ attached to the Exit Restriction
Regulations of 1987, states that such a notification is valid for a maximum of 30 days. If the exit
ban lasts longer than 30 days, then a new notification is supposed to be issued. In total, an exit
ban is not supposed to exceed five years (Habicht, 2019).
Before exploring the Chinese legal framework for exit bans in more detail, a brief comparison to
U.S. law provides a helpful contrast. In the U.S., exit bans in civil claims generally do not exist.
In criminal cases, of course, a U.S. government prosecutor may ask a judge to imprison a
defendant while charges are pending, or the defendant may be released on bail with conditions
that include not leaving the country, or even not leaving a particular U.S. state. Also, a U.S.
passport may be revoked for a variety of reasons, such as delinquent child support payments or
unpaid taxes, which would then prevent a person from leaving the country. But in the context of
commercial litigation involving civil claims against businesses or individuals in the U.S., exit
bans are not one of the tools at a plaintiff’s disposal. Beyond the U.S., exit bans in civil litigation
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have been documented in other countries, such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the
Philippines, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates (Habicht, 2019).
2.1. Key provisions of Chinese exit ban laws
The foundational Chinese law regarding exit bans against foreigners was passed in 1985, under
the title, Law of the People's Republic of China for the Management of the Entrance and Exit of
Foreigners from Chinese Territory (Habicht, 2019; Wagner & Wang, 2011). This initial law on
exit bans was then supplemented in 1987 with the adoption of Article 23 of a law titled, Several
Provisions on Issues Concerning Restricting the Exit of Foreigners and Chinese Citizens from
Chinese Territory. In relevant part, Article 23 states as follows:
A foreigner who is involved in the following situations is refused permission to
leave Chinese territory:
… (2) When a people's court has issued a notification that a civil case has not
been concluded and therefore the foreigner may not leave Chinese territory…
(Wagner & Wang, 2011).
The 1987 law thus creates a broad legal basis for a Chinese court to prevent a foreign
businessperson from leaving the country simply because a civil case is pending against the
foreigner.
Over time, that already-broad legal basis expanded in scope to include not only foreigners who
themselves were parties in a civil commercial lawsuit, but also foreigners whose employer was a
party to a civil lawsuit (Habicht, 2019; Wagner & Wang, 2011).
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In 2005, the Supreme People's Court appears to have formally blessed this expansion by
inserting the language below in Item 93 of the Minutes of the Second Meeting on National
Foreign Related Commercial and Maritime Adjudication Work (Wagner & Wang, 2011), which
details a more robust legal framework for imposing exit bans against foreigners and foreign
companies:
When foreign-related commercial disputes are handled by people's courts, the
courts may adopt exit restriction measures if all of the following conditions are
met:
(1) the foreign-related commercial case has not yet been concluded;
(2) the person against whom the restriction would be levied is a party to the case,
the legal representative of a party to the case or a responsible person with a
party to the case (emphasis added);
(3) there exists the possibility that the party with whom the person is affiliated
would evade the litigation or the performance of a statutory obligation;
(4) if the person in question left China the court might have difficulty conducting
the trial or enforcing a judgment if levied against the party with whom the person
was affiliated.
This language explicitly allows Chinese courts to impose an exit ban on the "legal
representative" or "responsible person" of a foreign company involved in pending civil litigation
in China. The first term, “legal representative,” is not ambiguous under Chinese law, for a
company’s legal representative is the person appointed and empowered to represent the entity in
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China (Wagner & Wang, 2011). The legal representative is formally identified in the company's
business license or other appointment documents that the company files with the government
(Wagner & Wang, 2011).
The second term, "responsible person," however, is ambiguous. At first blush, one might assume
the term only includes the owner, CEO, or other senior executive holding an upper managerial
role in the company, but concerns were raised that Chinese courts could interpret the term more
broadly (Habicht, 2019; Wagner & Wang, 2011). For example, should a “responsible person”
also include someone who, although not a high-level executive, is closely involved in the
dispute, has material information about the dispute, and, for practical purposes, is in a position to
help settle the dispute, such as project managers, business development personnel, sales persons,
engineers, or supply chain or logistics managers (Wagner & Wang, 2011)? The 2005 language
leaves such questions unanswered but opens the door to the possibility of exit bans being
imposed on a wide range of a foreign company’s employees.
Without resolving the ambiguity around the definition of a “responsible person,” the legal
tentacles for exit bans in civil cases were stretched further in 2012. Article 28 of the Exit-Entry
Administration Law provides, in relevant part, that foreigners may be prevented from leaving
China if they are:
(1) Involved in unsettled civil cases and are not allowed to exit China upon
decision of the people’s courts,
(2) In arrears of paying off labor remuneration and therefore are not allowed
to exit by decisions of the relevant departments under the State Council or of the
people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions or municipalities directly
under the Central Government, or
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(3) [Involved in] other circumstances in which exit shall not be allowed in
accordance with laws or administrative regulations (Exit and Entry, 2018).
Under the 2012 exit ban law, not only are pending civil cases grounds for preventing a foreigner
from leaving China, but also being late on paying wages or “other labor remuneration, or any
“other circumstance in which exit shall not be allowed” under Chinese law.
In sum, from the 1980s to the present day, the legal framework for exit bans against foreigners
has been increasingly expanded and solidified to allow Chinese citizens or Chinese companies to
use exit bans as a court-sanctioned tool for resolving civil disputes with foreign companies or
individual foreign business people.
2.2. Two types of exit bans
It is important to clarify that there are two types of exit bans in the context of Chinese civil
litigation involving foreign businesspeople.2 One is ex-post and the other ex-ante. We refer to the
ex-post type as an “enforcement exit ban,which is an exit ban imposed to enforce an existing
court judgment. That is, the court has already decided the underlying civil dispute in favor of the
plaintiff and subsequently decides to prevent the foreign defendant from leaving the country,
typically on the grounds that the court believes there is no other way to collect the money owed
from the foreign defendant (Habicht email correspondence, 2020; Habicht, 2019).
The ex-ante type of exit ban is what we refer to as a preventative exit ban, which is one
imposed at the request of the plaintiff before the court has decided the merits of the underlying
dispute. That is, the civil case is still ongoing, or is just beginning, and no judgment has yet been
rendered. For example, along with the initial civil complaint, the plaintiff can file an exit ban
10
application to request that a restraining order be issued quickly to prevent the foreigner from
leaving the country while the case progresses through litigation (Habicht, 2019).
Habicht argues persuasively that, especially in preventative exit ban scenarios, Chinese courts
should tread with great caution (2019). Indeed, before imposing either an enforcement or
preventative exit ban, Chinese courts are obligated (at least in theory) to consider other
alternatives short of an exit ban to collect money from a foreign defendant. Unfortunately,
however, it appears the requirement to consider alternatives is often ignored (Habicht, 2019;
Wagner & Wang, 2011).
2.3 Procedure for putting an exit ban in place and getting it removed
Although the letter of the law is not always followed, exit bans are supposed to require, first, a
request from the plaintiff, and second, court approval (Habicht, 2019; Wagner & Wang, 2011).
In considering the plaintiff’s request, the court has the discretion to require the plaintiff to post a
bond before granting the plaintiff’s application. The amount of the plaintiff’s bond can vary, but
it appears that, when required at all, courts typically require the plaintiff to post a bond
equivalent to the amount of the claim (Wagner & Wang, 2011).
Once the exit ban order is issued, it is often implemented by recording the name and details of
the foreigner in the border control database. Typically, the foreign businessperson is unaware of
the exit ban until the foreigner attempts to leave China and is prevented by customs or the border
service from doing so. Alternatively, the court may also seize the foreigner’s passport after
notifying the foreigner of the order (Wagner & Wang, 2011).
To remove the exit ban, the foreigner may post a bond with the court in an amount equal to the
plaintiff's claim. Also, in some but not all Chinese courts, there appears to be a review procedure
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and petition available to foreign defendants to contest the exit ban. In such a petition, the foreign
defendant may offer evidence of significant assets located in China or argue that the person
subjected to the exit ban is not a "responsible person" in the dispute (Habicht, 2019; Wagner &
Wang, 2011). Lastly, if the parties settle the dispute outside of court, then they may file a signed
document (tiaojieshu) with the court to have the exit ban removed.
3. METHODOLOGY
Additional situations where exit bans are used in China include attempts to compel people to
participate in Chinese government investigations (Allen-Ebrahimian, 2018; U.S. State
Department, China Travel), to coax overseas relatives back to China (Wong & Forsythe, 2018;
Yan, 2018; U.S. State Department, China Travel), and to exact political retribution (Jiang, 2010).
Exit bans are also a tool of international diplomacy, as the world witnessed in 2019 when
Canada, acting on a U.S. arrest warrant, arrested the chief financial officer of a Chinese company
(Huawei) in Vancouver, resulting in a diplomatic tit-for-tat where Canadian citizens were
thereafter quickly detained in China (Grauer, 2019; Mozur, et. al., 2019; McBride, C., 2019; U.S.
State Department, Briefing).
Canada, the U.S., and the United Kingdom have issued prominent warnings of exit ban risks for
each country’s citizens traveling in China (Canadian Government; Zheng, 2019; U.S. State
Department, China Travel; U.K. Government). For example, the U.S. State Department’s official
China Travel Advisory states that [t]he PRC government arbitrarily enforces local laws,
including by carrying out arbitrary and wrongful detentions and through the use of exit bans on
U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law. The PRC government
uses arbitrary detention and exit bans to:  
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compel individuals to participate in PRC government investigations, 
pressure family members to return to the PRC from abroad, 
influence PRC authorities to resolve civil disputes in favor of PRC citizens, and
gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.
In most cases, U.S. citizens only become aware of an exit ban when they attempt to depart the
PRC, and there is no reliable mechanism or legal process to find out how long the ban might
continue or to contest it in a court of law…" (U.S. State Department, China Travel).
Beyond official government statements on the risk of exit bans, Internet searches on “exit bans or
travel bans in China reveal no shortage of media articles, stories, and blog posts on the topic;
however, the authors’ extensive literature search did not uncover any public databases that record
exit ban activity in China, or elsewhere, in a systematic way.
In addition, on an informal and confidential basis, the authors also inquired about exit bans in
China with a range of practitioners who would be likely to encounter exit bans within the scope
of their professional services (such as international business attorneys, risk management and
insurance firms, government officials, and journalists). These inquiries were not interviews or
surveys requiring approval under university institutional review policies; nonetheless, our
discussions did reveal a unanimous belief among practitioners that becoming the target of an exit
ban is a current risk of doing business in China (see also ChinaFile, 2021).
For purposes of this study, the term “exit ban” is defined as, and limited to, a civil business
dispute between a foreign businessperson and his or her Chinese counterpart, where the
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foreigner is prevented from leaving China. Drivers of the civil business dispute that lead to an
exit ban might include such controversies as the failure to pay a debt, the laying off of
employees, the closing of an office or factory (Dickinson, 2018), an intellectual property dispute,
or the failure to form, operate, or shut down a proper business entity (Myers & Perlez, 2018).
Our definition of exit bans, then, does not include the following situations:
Criminal cases where a foreigner is prevented from leaving China, or is detained or
subjected to other restrictions, primarily due to alleged criminal conduct.
Commercial or debt hostage situations, where the foreigner in a business dispute is
kidnapped or otherwise physically detained by the foreigner’s Chinese counterpart, to
pressure the foreigner into paying an alleged debt (Dawson, 2017). In these situations, the
local Chinese police may also be involved, either actively assisting the local party or
doing nothing to help the foreigner. Although the distinction between debt hostage
situations and exit bans can be blurry at times, and the former can morph into the latter,
they are two different situations with different goals (Carr & Harris, 2021).
Exit restrictions that are heavily politically driven, designed to coax or lure overseas
relatives back to China, or used to root out corruption by pressuring the foreigner to
participate in Chinese government investigations.
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The aggressive extra-judicial actions that China’s government-owned export control
agency, Sinosure, engages in to collect debts allegedly owed to Chinese companies
(Harris, 2016a, 2017, 2019).
We gathered data for our study of exit bans in two ways. First, we submitted a Freedom of
Information Act (“FOIA”) request (or its equivalent) to the foreign ministries of six western
countries which are engaged in significant trade with China, including the United States
(Scoville, 2019). Each foreign ministry and each country’s respective laws pertaining to public
access to information are identified in Appendix A. Our FOIA strategy of data collection is
premised on the assumption that at least some of the foreigners subjected to an exit ban in China
would notify their embassy or consulate, and the embassy or consulate officials would then
record and monitor the events.
Our second method of gathering exit ban data was to search English and Chinese business and
legal media reports that describe exit bans involving foreign businesspeople in China. Although
exit bans are also used in local Chinese-versus-Chinese disputes not involving any foreigners,
our study focuses exclusively on local-versus-foreigner business disputes in China.
3.1 Information act requests
One of the authors previously published a study on commercial debt hostage situations in China
(Carr & Harris, 2021). This exit ban article investigates a related but different topic and relies on
a similar methodology to that used in the prior commercial debt hostage article.
15
When seeking to develop data on exit bans in China, our assumption was that when foreigners
doing business in China become aware of an exit ban, they will, at least sometimes, reach out to
their embassy or consulate for help, and their government will record and monitor such events.
Of course, there are limitations to this assumption, which we acknowledge below, but we simply
sought to gain some measurement of how many such cases are reported each year through this
channel, along with the case background.
Table 1 below lists the countries to which we submitted information requests. The countries we
selected were some of the larger western trading partners, as measured by exports from China to
these countries. Our reasoning was that larger trading partners are more likely to encounter
business disputes that would in turn work their way into the intake complaint queues of their
respective embassies or consulates in China. Additionally, we felt the below six countries would
be the most likely to have information request acts on the books, and that as developed countries
they would be more likely to respond to reasonable requests in a timely manner.
Furthermore, Appendix C (Information Request Template) sets forth the FOIA template we
created to submit to each country. As described further in Appendix C, we tailored our
information requests as appropriate for each country, and we tried to be reasonable with the
scope of our information requests, because in the world of access to government held
information, it is one thing to ask for such information, and it is another thing to get it. Appendix
A sets forth detailed summaries of the information we received from five of the six western
governments to which we submitted information requests. To date, the United States is the only
country yet to provide a substantive response.
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Table 1
Selected countries and China trade ranking
Countries/Trading
Partners with China
Selected for this Study
Ranking (Out of the Top 20 in the World)
2018 Trade Data (Source: Workman, 2019)
United States
Germany
Netherlands
United Kingdom
Australia
Canada
1. United States: USD $479.7 billion (19.2% of total Chinese exports)
2. Hong Kong: $303 billion (12.1%)
3. Japan: $147.2 billion (5.9%)
4. South Korea: $109 billion (4.4%)
5. Vietnam: $84 billion (3.4%)
6. Germany: $77.9 billion (3.1%)
7. India: $76.9 billion (3.1%)
8. Netherlands: $73.1 billion (2.9%)
9. United Kingdom: $57 billion (2.3%)
10. Singapore: $49.8 billion (2%)
11. Taiwan: $48.7 billion (2%)
12. Russia: $48 billion (1.9%)
13. Australia: $47.5 billion (1.9%)
14. Malaysia: $45.8 billion (1.8%)
15. Mexico: $44.1 billion (1.8%)
16. Indonesia: $43.2 billion
17. Thailand: $43 billion
18. Canada: $35.5 billion
19. Philippines: $35.1 billion
20. Brazil $33.7 billion
3.2 Media searches (English and Chinese)
The business and legal press often report on events that may not be reported by foreigners in the
business community to the Chinese government, police, or their own home consulates or
embassies in China. In an attempt to capture such cases and data, we conducted an English and
Chinese internet search using the databases set forth in Appendix D and the search terms set
forth in Appendix E. Source selection was driven by the databases available and accessible to the
authors. Once we located responsive articles using the sources in Appendix D and the search
terms in Appendix E, we developed and applied the rubric in Appendix F to tally the information
in each article in a way that would allow some level of meaningful study and comparison.
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4. RESULTS, FINDINGS, TAKEAWAYS
The various FOIA requests to Western governments generally resulted in three years of data
produced (2015-17). However, Canada produced seven years of data (2010-16), Australia
produced two years (2016-17), and the Americans to date have not produced any data. The cases
described in the articles located through the media search covered 1995 to 2019.
Below we discuss what the aggregate data from these two channels show.
4.1 Quantity - number of exit ban cases
Table 2 below combines the data from the two channels into a total number of exit ban cases,
broken down by nationality and by number of cases driven by business disputes. We located at
least 128 total cases and were able to determine that at least 41 of them, or approximately one-
third of the total, were driven or caused by business disputes. In addition, it is likely that many
more of the 128 cases were driven by business disputes, but because much of the data we
received from embassies was provided in aggregate form, we were unable to verify the primary
impetus behind such cases.
The number of exit ban cases uncovered in our data strikes us as significant, for multiple reasons.
First, one-third or more (41+) of the 128 identified exit ban cases being related to local-versus-
foreign business disputes is larger than we anticipated. And, of course, our totals do not include
the U.S. State Department’s potentially large FOIA data set, which we continue pursuing (see
discussion on U.S. State in Appendix A).
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Table 2 also likely only captures a small percentage of the total actual exit ban cases. The vast
majority of exit ban cases appear to go unreported to embassies, consulates, and the press due to
the business community’s desire to stay off the radar. In talking confidentially with multiple
stakeholders, we consistently learned that many businesses do not report exit ban incidents to
governments or the press.3 They refrain from doing so for numerous reasons, such as fear of
embarrassment, fear of causing more serious damage, a lack of trust or faith in governmental
authorities to help them, hesitancy to further anger their local counterpart or the Chinese
government, and a desire to avoid tipping off their own home governments or stakeholders about
the extent of their operations in China. Our research methodology thus undoubtedly undercounts
the total number of exit ban cases.
Precise case counts aside, Western countries such as the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. clearly
believe exit bans in China are a serious risk, so much so that they flag the danger in their
government travel advisories and warnings. To reinforce those warnings and add real
transparency and bite to them, we propose that each country voluntarily publish its exit ban data
in a publicly available format, such as on its website. Doing so would fully inform each
country’s citizens and help those particularly at risk to make more informed decisions about
whether to travel to China in person, and if so, what precautions to take.
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Table 2
Data summary
Country
Total number of exit ban cases
Number of cases
driven by business
disputes
Australia
18
7
Canada
44
5
(Likely many more, but
unable to verify in the
aggregate information
produced)
Hong Kong
4
4
Ireland
1
1
Germany
4
4
Japan
2
2
Netherlands
3
2
South Korea
2
2
Taiwan
4
4
UK
12-16
(To protect individual identities, exit bans
were reported in part via a range)
Unable to determine
from aggregate
information produced
USA
29
(This number only includes cases gleaned
from media searches, as the U.S. State
Department has not yet produced any
documents in response to our FOIA request)
5
(Of the media search
cases, two dozen appear
to be driven by human
rights or politics)
Unknown
(could not determine
from media articles)
5
5
20
Total: 128 people
Total: 41 people
4.2 Efficacy and fairness
Our assumption was that our exit ban data would reveal significant issues with the
implementation (i.e., efficacy and fairness) of China’s exit ban law and process. In the FOIA
searches, three of the six countries (namely, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands) provided
data detailed enough to attempt to gauge if the exit ban law and application process was
generally followed. At least five of Australia’s six reported business dispute cases appear to have
followed the law. For Germany, at least three of the four business dispute cases appear to have
done so. For the Netherlands, the two business dispute cases both appear to have done so. In the
cases from our media search, exit ban laws appear to have been generally followed in
approximately 13 out of the 22 cases that we located. In roughly eight of those 22 cases, there
was insufficient information to determine whether exit ban laws were followed, and the
remaining article was unusable.
Although neither of these two data sets is a large sample size, the rate of cases that generally
complied with Chinese exit ban laws was significant. This finding and conclusion would not
support, at least with regard to business disputes, the Western criticism that China is not
committed to the rule of law in following its own exit ban rules (Kellogg, 2019). However, as
described above, Chinese exit ban laws are ambiguous and provide judges with significant
discretion in deciding whether to impose an exit ban on a foreign businessperson; therefore, the
21
observation that exit ban laws are generally followed is hardly the same as asserting that
substantive due process was provided or that exit bans are administered with fairness.
The Chinese exit ban judicial process is comprised of numerous steps and involves multiple
details. To be truly fair and non-arbitrary, those steps and details need to be followed. For
example, were these exit bans implemented as a last resort (Kellogg, 2019)? Was the requisite
notification provided to the defendant? Was there a posting of an appropriate bond? Was the exit
ban length appropriate?
In our study, the information produced and located was simply not granular enough to verify
answers to such questions. Clearly, more granular and cleaner data would be helpful in this
regard. We hope that our initial attempt to collect and analyze exit ban data will be helpful
nevertheless for other researchers to learn from and improve upon.
4.3 Location
Most of the exit bans in our data set took place in Tier 1 cities or coastal regions. This finding
makes sense, as Tier 1 cities and coastal regions are where significant business in China is
conducted and where most foreigners and expats are based (and where a large percentage of
Chinese citizens live as well). Our data does, however, include scattered incidents of exit bans
occurring in more remote locations, as noted below. Our data is not robust enough to determine
whether exit bans occur disproportionately in Tier 1 cities or more remote locations, but our data
does confirm that exit bans are a business reality across China.
22
In the FOIA responses, three of the countries provided data detailed enough to gauge location
(Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands). Five of Australia’s six reported business-driven exit
bans occurred in Tier 1 cities. For Germany, it was four out of four business-driven cases. For
the Netherlands, one of the business dispute cases came out of Beijing, the other from remote
Xinjiang.
For the cases we located through media searches, roughly 12 out of the 22 cases reported exit
ban incidents in Tier 1 cities or coastal regions. In nine of the remaining cases, the information
was too general or unclear to tell, and the one remaining incident took place in Shishi City,
Fujian Province.
4.4 Targets - by position and ethnicity
Regarding the discussion above about who qualifies as a legal representative” or "responsible
person" under China’s exit ban laws, only one FOIA response addressed this issue. In that
response, a German legal representative of a Chinese company was subjected to an exit ban
(Appendix A, Germany data from information act requests, #1). The other FOIA responses were
silent on the question.
Interestingly, the media search results revealed a number of exit bans targeted at senior-level
executives, such as business owner, co-founder, CEO, senior advisor, senior manager, executive,
and board member. But the media search results also revealed three exit ban cases involving
lower-level employees: one involving an exit ban on foreign investors, another involving an
“informal” exit ban on a global bank’s client relationship manager, and a third involving the
salesman of a U.S company (Appendix B, Media Search Results, Case #s 14, 17, 21). Our
23
limited and imperfect data, then, provides mixed results regarding the concern that the term
“responsible person” would be abused by Chinese courts to target non-senior level people.
Regarding ethnicity, some argue or imply that China unfairly targets ethnic Chinese doing
business in China (Lok-to, 2018), stating, for example, that Chinese “authorities are increasingly
using the [exit ban] tactic to harass Americans and other foreign nationals, particularly those of
Chinese descent” (Shesgreen, 2019). Although our FOIA data was silent on this issue, our media
search results revealed at least 38 exit ban cases, and of those 38 cases, the ethnicity of 19 of the
targeted individuals could be identified. Nine involved ethnic Chinese, six involved Caucasians,
and two each for Japanese and South Koreans. Thus, of the 19 targets whose ethnicity could be
identified, roughly 50 percent were ethnic Chinese (9 of 19, or 47.3 percent, to be exact). We
must caution, however, that because most of our data did not reveal ethnicity, any conclusions
regarding ethnicity remain tentative and inconclusive.
4.5 Targets - by business or industry type
Regarding targeted firms or industries, we reasoned that foreign firms in the “lower value chain,
that is, in standard or commoditized industries, would be victimized at a higher rate than
specialized or high-value-add industries, such as technology firms, consulting firms, and
financial and insurance sector firms. This is because in our (anecdotal) experience, commodity
space firms often source from China (or sell to China) and tend to consist of businesspeople on
both sides of the bargaining table who are entrepreneurial and risk taking in approach, more
informal in how they do business, and less likely to rely on written contracts. While such an
approach has its advantages, it can also lead to more misunderstandings, disputes, and conflicts
that may in turn spill over into an exit ban situation.
24
Our FOIA data did not uncover any details on this question, unfortunately. In fact, even though
we asked for information pertaining to business or industry type, the responding countries
viewed such information as an item that could potentially jeopardize the privacy of those
subjected to exit bans, so the responding countries redacted such information from the
documents produced.
However, our media search data and results set forth in Appendix G leaned toward supporting
our assumption, although any conclusions should be viewed with caution due to the small sample
size. Specifically, in at least 8 out of 12 (66 percent) cases where the type of business or industry
was discussed, the dispute was connected to the commodity space. None of the articles, however,
included a discussion about how the businesspeople subjected to an exit ban, or their firms,
addressed exit ban risks on an industry-wide basis. Clearly, therefore, the issue of whether
businesspeople or companies are more at risk of exit bans depending on their industry typeand
how different firms manage this riskis worthy of additional study and research.
4.6 Practical recommendations for business leaders
From the Western perspective, exit bansparticularly in the context of civil claims pursued
through commercial litigationare perceived dramatically differently than from the Chinese
perspective. Western consultants with on-the-ground experience in China tend to view such exit
bans as heavy handed and coercive. In contrast, the Chinese government and its citizenry seem to
view exit bans more as an administrative process (Habicht, 2019; Clarke, 1995). Stated
differently, Westerners might passionately argue, You can’t do that!While Chinese might say,
25
What’s the big deal? Exit bans are a natural part of our and any country’s sovereignty.” This
difference is a wide legal, business, and cultural chasm to bridgeone that is unlikely to close
any time soon, if ever.
It therefore behooves business leaders to develop a proactive strategy to deal with exit ban risks
in the commercial context. Below we offer four concrete recommendations as a starting point.
1) Initial Risk Assessment
Catalog the cities and geographic areas where your company has a presence. Be sure to
investigate whether your company relies on suppliers or any other parties located in places other
than where your operations are centered. A foreign company operating in a Tier 1 city or coastal
area may face a more threatening exit ban environment than a company operating in a Tier II or
Tier III city, but as our data suggests, exit bans can and do occur in more remote locations within
China as well. Also, catalog all assets owned or held in China, as a foreign firm with significant
assets or investments in China may be viewed as a more viable exit ban target (Wagner & Wang,
2011).
Assess the reliability of the parties with which your company does business in China, and
maintain scrupulous records of all debts owed and paid. Be certain to obtain documentation, in
Chinese, of all payments made and debts paid. Further, consider whether you have had a
contentious relationship with any of your Chinese counterparts, in the past or currently. Were
any loose ends left unresolved on any prior transactions with a Chinese party? Can you identify
any suspicious aspects or potential problems with the deals your company is involved in?
26
Naturally, exit bans are more likely to arise when deals go bad; it is therefore imperative to
identify areas of concern proactively, before a seemingly routine disagreement morphs into an
exit ban. Do not be caught unprepared.
2) Disputes and Settlements
Do not travel to China if you are currently in a dispute with a Chinese party, owe money to a
Chinese party, are planning to lay off Chinese staff, or intend to close or reduce the operations of
a facility in China (Harris, 2013). If you have personnel in China, be sure everyone leaves the
country before any plans are announced that will adversely affect Chinese employees (Harris,
2013, 2016b).
If you pay or plan to pay an opposing party to settle a dispute in China, hire a knowledgeable and
experienced lawyer to ensure a written agreement is put in place to memorialize the settlement.
At a minimum, the agreement should state that it resolves the entire dispute and that the
opposing party waives any right to seek an exit ban in the future (or, if an exit ban is already in
place, the agreement should state explicitly that the exit ban will be lifted immediately).
Furthermore, the agreement should be written in (or translated into) Chinese, as a document
written in Chinese carries significantly more weight with Chinese authorities, and a document
written in English or another language may be ignored entirely (Dickinson, 2018). All company
personnel should carry a copy of the settlement agreement with them at all times while they are
in China, whether living in China or visiting for any reason, whether business or pleasure.
27
3) Traveling to China
Consider whether any proposed business travel to China can be rerouted to an alternate location
(such as Seoul or Tokyo), or whether any trips can be replaced with meetings via
videoconferencing. If traveling to China is unavoidable, take necessary precautions. For starters,
diligently track precisely which senior executives or other company representatives travel to
China, including where they go, where they lodge, and the frequency and length of their visits
(Wagner & Wang, 2011). Importantly, investigate beforehand whether any employees who travel
to China, or any who are based in China, have family relationships with Chinese living outside
China, especially if any of the Chinese living outside China could conceivably be targets of
Chinese government investigations. Exit bans have been put in place against foreign citizens as a
mechanism to entice Chinese family members living abroad to return to China (Wong &
Forsythe, 2018). Before any travel to China, educate all travelers about exit bans to help them
avoid walking blindly into an exit ban situation, and develop a communication plan and written
strategy to manage any exit ban situation that may arise.
4) Legal Counsel and Embassy Contacts
An important part of any exit ban strategy involves local contacts. Ensure that you have engaged
and developed a trusting relationship with capable and experienced local legal counsel with
extensive knowledge of Chinese litigation and court procedures. Your local Chinese counsel
should proactively monitor court filings to watch for exit ban applications and warn you of
oncoming applications before exit bans are issued. At a minimum, local counsel can contact
relevant courts and ask for notification before an exit ban is put into effect (Wagner & Wang,
28
2011). In addition, verify beforehand that your in-house counsel, or your legal counsel based
outside of China, works effectively with your local Chinese counsel.
Relatedly, if you are already involved in a business dispute with a Chinese company, consider
preemptively suing the Chinese party somewhere outside of China, such as a U.S. federal court
(Harris, 2016b). Then, if future travel to China is necessary and an exit ban is imposed, you can
credibly claim to the Chinese police and other authorities that you or your employees have been
subjected to an exit ban out of retaliation for your having sued prior to arrival in China. Carry
proof of your lawsuit with you at all times while you are in Chinaproof that is written in
Chinese, of course.
Lastly, initiate contact and develop trusting relationships in advance with your embassy and
consulate personnel. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, there may be little embassy or consular
personnel can or will do to assist you in an exit ban situation. For example, as of Summer 2021
the U.S. embassy website noted that the U.S. Embassy is not able to act as a legal representative
or give legal advice. All legal disputes must be resolved through the Chinese legal system. We
have compiled a list of attorneys who are willing to work with foreigners in China. Neither the
U.S. Embassy nor the State Department endorse nor promote specific providers or services
(U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China). Such disclaimers are all the more reason to start building
a network of trusted advisors in China and developing an exit ban strategy before an exit ban is
imposed against you or one of your employees.
29
4.7 Study limitations
The data obtained from our FOIA requests and media searches rely on the filters, resources, and
abilitiesand are influenced by the biasesof the government employees and journalists who
collect and publish the data. The data collected was also more aggregate than granular,
particularly the data produced in response to the FOIA requests. On these bases, one must be
careful about drawing overly rigid conclusions. Nevertheless, in our view, the data collected for
this study is new, valuable, and a step in the direction of greater transparency around exit ban
practices in China.
Another limitation, as one reviewer noted, is that our methodology did not allow us to track
down and interview either the Chinese party to the dispute or the foreigner subjected to the exit
ban. Such interviews would have undoubtedly allowed us to learn more about what happened
and why in each particular exit ban scenario. They also would have helped us better understand
and confirm the degree to which applicable exit ban laws were followed. However, gathering
additional data via interviews presents its own challenges. Upon testing the interview suggestion
with a small number of people who were individually identified in our data, the person either
could not be located or was unwilling to discuss the situation, due to understandable privacy,
confidentiality, or proprietary business concerns.
We also acknowledge that our study probably does not come close to capturing the total number
of actual exit ban cases. For starters, we focused on only six countries and, as of this writing, we
received responses from only five of them. Further, as noted above, many businesses are
30
reluctant to report exit ban cases, and our research methodology did not capture unreported
cases.
Finally, with respect to our government information requests, it is unlikely that we were provided
with all the data and responsive documents some governments may have under their control. But
in our cost-benefit analysis, we decided that even though pushing governments harder may have
resulted in more documents and data, the additional cost and delay would have been too high.
We designed our study to organize, categorize, and reveal data that was previously either
unavailable publicly (in the case of the FOIA data) or randomly dispersed (in the case of the
media search data). We fully recognize that more robust data on exit bans is needed.
31
5. CONCLUSION AND AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The collective findings from our study support the view that exit bans are a current risk in China,
and that exit bans can happen to any businessperson at any time. To date, very little has been
written academically regarding foreigner exit bans in China (or in other countries, for that
matter). Although basic in approach, this study is a start. We focused on a limited number of
western countries doing business with China. One immediate direction for future research is to
continue seeking data from the U.S. State Department and, once received, to compare and
contrast that data with the analysis we presented in this initial study.
Furthermore, there are numerous additional countries and their citizens that could be added to
expand this initial study. For example, several people on-the-ground in China informed us that
they believed Indian businesses are being pulled into China’s exit ban labyrinth at an increasing
rate. For this reason, we considered adding India to our study. Unfortunately, after reviewing
India’s 2005 Right to Information Act (Right to Information [India], n.d.), we were concerned
that only Indian citizens are authorized to submit information requests. Also, lacking any
contacts on the ground in India to advocate for our information request were it to receive
bureaucratic resistance, we were pessimistic about receiving a complete and timely response.
Thus, we excluded India from the FOIA part of the study. However, for future researchers with
local resources and contacts in India, Chinese exit bans imposed on Indian citizens or companies
could prove to be an important research opportunity to pursue.
Other areas worthy of future research include whether different types of firms or industries are
more at risk of exit bans than others, and how different firms or industries manage this risk. In
32
addition, conducting qualitative interviews of people subjected to exit bans may yield helpful
information (assuming, of course, such people can be located and are willing to be interviewed).
Finally, expanding exit ban research beyond China is fruitful ground for future research, as exit
bans in the context of civil litigation have been previously noted in countries such as Belarus,
Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates (Habicht,
2019).
In closing, this study serves as the beginning of what we hope will become an exit ban data
repository, on which others can build to create even more robust data sets that connect to even
more countries. The timing of our study seemed to give several government officials and
agencies not only pause, but also motivation to track exit ban data more fully. That is, we
presented our information requests to foreign ministries in the midst of multiple ongoing, high-
profile economic and political events involving China and Western countries, such as the arrest
of a Huawei executive in Canada (Fazzini, 2018; Wakabayashi & Rappeport, 2018), a trade
dispute between China and the U.S. (BBC News, 2020), and the decoupling that appears to be
taking place between the U.S. and China (Asia Society, 2019; Bermingham, 2018). Multiple
government officials informally commented on how our information requests made them realize
they might consider updating their case management systems to better capture data on exit bans
(and commercial debt hostage situations). If implemented, their efforts could help improve
governmental responsiveness and transparency in the future, thereby benefiting researchers who
seek additional data on this important topic impacting the international business community.
33
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We thank Dr. Minxin Pei (Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College), Dr. Marisa
Anne Pagnattaro (Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Distinguished Teaching Professor at
the University of Georgia), Dr. Andrew Morris (Professor of East Asian History at California
Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo), and Jasper Habicht (Ph.D. Candidate in Chinese
Legal Culture at the University of Cologne) for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.
Thanks also to Dr. Graham Archer at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
for his support in obtaining the Canadian data and Dan Harris and the Harris & Bricken law firm
for their assistance in obtaining some of the European data. We also thank participants in the
2021 annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business,
especially Professor Lisa Johnson (Puget Sound) and Professor Susan Park (Boise State).
ENDNOTES
1 O’Connor, F. (2021). Irish businessman told he must pay $36m to leave China, Irish
Independent.
2 Thanks to Jasper Habicht for suggesting the clarification of two different types of exit
bans in the context of civil business disputes (Email correspondence, Jan. 5, 2020).
3 For example, two of our confidential communications on why exit ban cases often go
unreported were with a risk management consultant based in a Tier 1 Chinese city whose
firm handles exit ban and debt hostage cases and the founder of an NGO with significant
experience helping exit ban victims in China.
34
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laws,CTV News. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/canada-updates-china-
travel-advisory-risk-of-arbitrary-enforcement-of-local-laws-1.4253450.
38
APPENDIX A DATA FROM INFORMATION ACT REQUESTS
Australia
Submitted to: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Legislation: Freedom of Information Act 1982
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2017. We originally
asked for more than five years but agreed to two years when informed that doing so would
reduce the number of consular searches from 40 to 8.
Time to respond and produce: Roughly 60 days
Data or pages produced: Three-page letter, plus 27 pages of supporting documents
Cost/charge: $102 USD
Result: See below matrix
Total number of reported exit ban cases for 2016 and 2017 = 17. A dozen (12) of those 17 cases
were tied to a Tier 1 city or coastal region, one came out of Xinjiang, and for the remaining five
cases we are unable to determine the location from the information produced). Further, of the 17
reported exit ban cases:
6 = business disputes (italicized below). It appears that at least five of the six followed
exit ban laws, meaning that an application appears to have been filed, and a court issued the ban.
From the information and documents produced, however, we could not determine whether all of
the details of the law were followed, such as notification, posting of bond, proper length of ban,
etc. All six of the business dispute cases appear to have been connected to a Tier 1 city or coastal
region.
4 = criminal cases
5 = cases where the exit ban appears to be driven by an attempt to lure someone back to
China or to root out corruption
2 = other/unable to determine
39
Australian
Post Intaking
the Matter:
Post File
Opened On /
Closed On:
Where/Who
Issued the
Exit Ban:
Background/Description of the Incident
Australian National Still Being Prevented from
Exiting China?
Guangzhou
October 14,
2013 / July 28,
2016
Unclear from
documents
produced but
appears to be
Dongguan
Fraud allegedly illegally manufacturing and
selling fake medication
Yes and no. This dispute appears to involve two
Australian nationals. One served his time and will
be released soon (or was released and presumably
exited China). His co-accused appealed the verdict
and was free on bail while the appeal was pending
but must remain in China during this time.
Shanghai
February 4,
2016 / May 5,
2016
A judge in
Dandong,
Liaoning
Province
Exit ban appears to relate to a receivership of a
Hong Kong based company
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Guangzhou
April 4, 2016 /
Not listed
Can’t tell from
the documents
produced
Was a prisoner of some sort. No international
travel allowed while on reprieve
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Shanghai
April 11, 2016
/ April 11,
2016
Exit ban
apparently
imposed by the
Pudong New
Area Court
The Australian national was sued and some type
of civil judgement was apparently obtained
against him. He was stopped from leaving
Shanghai Pudong Airport by the China Border
Service (CBS). He has been unable to depart
China since August 2015. He was not given any
details for the exit ban by the CBS. He alleges
there were no legal cases against him in any local
courts
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Shanghai
June 28, 2016 /
Not listed
Can’t tell from
the documents
produced
The Australian national alleges Chinese police
imposed an exit ban against her due to a criminal
case (embezzlement) that her father was allegedly
involved in. She arrived in China May 16, 2016,
and was prevented from departing on May 21,
2016 due to the exit ban
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Shanghai
July 8, 2016 /
October 10,
2016
Can’t tell from
the documents
produced
Exit ban placed on Australian national after being
questioned by police
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Shanghai
May 8, 2016 /
January 10,
2017
Exit ban
apparently
issued by the
Wuxi Hi Tech
District Court
Australian national involved in the business of
importing in the manufacturing sector. This
appears to be a storage fee dispute. It appears he
tried to depart Beijing but Customs officials
advised him he had an outstanding legal issue
which required him to appear at the Wuxi Court
The Australian national was advised he can travel
within China, but cannot leave. Unable to tell from
the documents produced whether he is still in
China
Documents
produced on
this case
appear to be
incomplete
This Australian national apparently was
questioned by police regarding the criminal
investigation of a Chinese official and then an
exit ban was placed on him
Documents produced on this case appear to be
incomplete
Shanghai
August 24,
2016 /
November 21,
2016
Wuxi
Intermediate
Court
Unclear. The main reason appears to be that
their former company allegedly had outstanding
debts, but it may also relate to criminal
investigation into a Chinese official. In October
2016 the Australian national noted that the other
party to a civil case refused to negotiate so the
exit ban remained in place
Can’t tell from the documents produced
Guangzhou
September 19,
2016 / April 5,
2017
Can’t tell from
documents
produced
Australian national advised by the Public
Security Bureau (PSB) that he was prevented
from exiting China due to an unresolved
commercial legal matter in Beijing
Can’t tell from documents produced
Beijing
October 26,
2016 /
November 8,
2016
Can’t tell from
documents
produced
Australian national was prevented from departing
Qingdao Airport. Chinese border police allegedly
told her than an exit ban had been imposed and
she would not be allowed to leave China until the
ban was lifted. A court official allegedly advised
her that her exit ban was related to another
person’s embezzlement case
Can’t tell from documents produced
Shanghai
November 12,
2016 /
December 7,
2016
Can’t tell from
documents
produced
Australian national denied exit from Shanghai
Airport on November 11, 2016. Was informed
she was suspected of Economic Crime
Can’t tell from the documents produced
40
Beijing
November 22,
2016 /
December 14,
2016
Qingdao
Municipal
Procuratorate
and Shinan
District
Procuratorate
Australian national alleges exit ban placed on
him; may be related to a case under investigation
against his father
Can’t tell from documents produced
Beijing
June 27, 2016 /
June 4, 2018
Beijing
Haidian
District Court
Authorities allegedly prevented the Australian
national from leaving China due to a civil
case/dispute against her husband
Can’t tell from documents produced
Shanghai
July 14, 2017 /
July 26, 2017
Can’t tell from
documents
produced
Australian national unable to depart from Pudong
Airport due to a criminal case her father was
allegedly involved in
Can’t tell from documents produced
Beijing
October 9,
2017 / October
16, 2017
Can’t tell from
documents
produced
Australian national detained at Guangzhou
Airport and returned to Xinjiang for questioning
Can’t tell from documents produced
Canada
Submitted to: Global Affairs
Legislation: Access to Information Act
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017
Time to respond and produce: Roughly nine months. Likely would have been faster but the
agency had staff turnover and the Huawei CFO was arrested in Vancouver (Fazzini, 2018;
Wakabayashi & Rappeport, 2018) in the midst of Canada processing our request. We were
informed that “…[d]ue to the recent pressure regarding China, the department has asked for
more time to review the release package.…”
Data or pages produced: One-page cover letter and DVD (containing 46 pages of documents).
Many documents were heavily redacted (much more so than what other countries redacted),
which was likely due to concern over the Huawei case.
Cost/charge: $40 USD
Result: See below
Relevant excerpt from produced documents (italics added):
Exit Bans
SUMMARY
An increasing number of Canadians are facing seemingly indefinite exit bans for reasons that
are unclear and, in many cases not directly related to a judicial process. The inability to return
to Canada, often coupled with restrictions on working in China, can causes [sic] severe hardship
for those affected. While specific cases have been raised in recent years, this has not been done
consistently at a high level. Consular Consultations provide an opportunity to register Canada’s
concern about this evolving issue while also seeking the cooperation of Chinese authorities to
mitigate the negative effects (unreasonable length, lack of notification, unclear reasons).
Position:
41
Canada
Canada respects China’s right to control the flow of individuals in and out of the country.
However, the ability to prevent a Canadian citizen from returning to Canada is not absolute.
Canadian citizens are increasingly burdened by indiscriminate and indefinite exit bans
that are not directly linked to a judicial process (e.g. pending criminal trial or parole/bail
conditions).
China
China has a right to control its borders.
Exit bans are imposed according to Chinese law.
BACKGROUND
Since 2014, an increasing number of Canadian citizens have been prevented from leaving
mainland China. The reasons behind the restrictions are often unclear and imposed without
notification or explanation. Reasons for exit bans include the need to be available for questions
by local Chinese authorities and suspicion of being connected (although not investigated or
charged) with a criminal or commercial case. In many cases, exit bans are applied to individuals
who are not directly involved in a case (such as relatives of a criminal defendant). This even
includes situations where the defendant is outside of China, with no prospect of returning and,
therefore, no imminent commencement of criminal proceedings. In most instances, Canadians
are notified of the exit ban only once they attempt to leave mainland China.
Chinese rules regarding exit bans state that they can remain pending for up to a year, though
extensions beyond a year are also possible. In practice, however, exit bans often last much
longer as there is no legal limit to the number of times an exit ban can be extended. The resulting
long term travel restrictions, often coupled with an inability to work while in China, cause
considerable hardship for Canadian citizens.”
Canada kindly produced documents and data for seven years (2010-16), versus the three years
requested (2015-17). The below is a summary of the aggregate data produced by Global Affairs
Canada.
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Total

43
(most exit bans
were
approximately 2 to
5 months in
length)
 Per follow-up with Global Affairs, it was confirmed that existing responsive records were
produced up through the time of the request (June, 2018). 2017 data was not produced, however,
because apparently it had not yet been compiled or inputted into their record keeping system as
Redacted
42
of the time of the request. No information was produced shedding light on exit ban location or
whether exit ban law was followed.
Canada also reported the following categories driving the disclosed 43 exit bans. Clearly,
business disputes play a substantial role (see its categories of “private legal matter” and
corporate investigation).
China pre-2014
China post-2014
Private legal matter
Corporate investigation
Related to a
suspect/investigation
Bail expired/other unjustified
TOTAL
11
32
Germany
Submitted to: Federal Foreign Office
Legislation: Federal Act Governing Access to Information held by the Federal Government
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017
Time to respond and produce: Roughly three to four months
Data or pages produced: 2 (letter report-summary)
Cost/charge: $0
Result: See below. All four reported cases appear to have involved business disputes. At least
three of the four cases suggest an application for exit ban was made, and the court issued an
order; thus, exit ban laws and processes appear to have been followed. All four cases also appear
to have taken place in or near Tier 1 cities.
Case Group
Location
Duration
Summary
Legal
representative of a
Chinese company
Shanghai
Since March
2014
Exit ban imposed by court on reason
that the claims against the company
determined by the court have not been
paid yet.
Party in several
civil disputes
Shanghai
3 years
Exit ban imposed by court for the
duration of the civil disputes.
Defendant in civil
dispute
Shanghai
5 months
Exit ban imposed by court, civil dispute
with Chinese business partner.
Redacted
Redacted
43
Commercial law
dispute
Guangzhou
2 years
No details known.
Netherlands
Submitted to: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Legislation: Dutch Government Information Act
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017
Time to respond and produce: Less than three weeks
Data or pages produced: One page email/report
Cost/charge: $0
Result: See below. Two of the three reported exit ban cases appear to have involved business
disputes one took place in a Tier 1 city (Beijing), and the other in Xinjiang. In both business
dispute cases it appears exit ban laws and processes were followed.
# of
People
Year
Location
Status
Background
1
2016
Dalian
Solved
Drug related.
1
2017
Beijing
Solved
Person was sentenced by a court, and was not allowed
to leave the country until a debt was paid.
1
2018
Xinjiang
Pending
Person was sentenced by a court, and until the debt is
paid he cannot leave the country.
United Kingdom
Submitted to: Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Legislation: Freedom of Information Act 2000
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017
Time to respond and produce: Roughly six weeks
Data or pages produced: 2, two-page letters, plus 55 pages of documents cross referenced to
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/consular-data
Cost/charge: $0
Result: See below. The aggregated information produced did not shed light on exit ban location,
whether exit ban laws were followed, or how many cases involved business disputes.
44
2015 Reported
Exit Ban Cases
2016 Reported
Exit Ban Cases
2017 Reported
Exit Ban Cases
0
11
<=5
[where the reported number of
cases is less than or equal to 5,
these are annotated as <=5 to avoid
the risk of identifying the
individual concerned]
United States
Submitted to: US State Department
Legislation: Freedom of Information Act
Time period covered or negotiated: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017
Time to respond and produce: Ongoing
Data or pages produced: To date, none
Cost/charge: Unknown
Result: This FOIA request was submitted in May 2018. We have yet to receive meaningful
information or documents. In September 2019, U.S. State notified us that its EDC (“Estimated
Date of Completion”) would be September 30, 2021. In February 2021, it notified us of a new
EDC of July 12, 2023 more than five years after the original FOIA request was submitted. The
July 12, 2023 EDC only promises a U.S. State Department response by that date; it does not
guarantee that State will actually cooperate and produce responsive documents (e.g., if a meet
and confer process is required, the process could drag out even longer). This left us with the
difficult choice of completely delaying the submission of this article for publication until the
U.S. process plays out, thereby potentially rendering “stale” the other data obtained thus far, or,
moving forward with the data accumulated to date, and then once/if U.S. State complies,
submitting a supplementary article addressing the U.S. data. This was a cost-benefit analysis, and
we chose to move forward and publish what we have, now, while the data is still relatively fresh.
Further, given the tense state of U.S. China relations as of the date of this writing, obtaining
data from State relating to anything about China may only become more difficult, not less.
45
APPENDIX B DATA FROM MEDIA SEARCHES (ENGLISH AND
CHINESE)
We located a number of responsive articles linking to our “exit ban” definition and search. The
time period of these articles covers 1995 to 2019. Using the developed rubric (see Appendix F),
the following pages summarize each article or case. No “double counting” occurred between the
above FOIA sources and the below media search cases.
46
Case #1
Case #2
Article Title and Date
Marooned Americans get no help from China police.
March 19, 1995.
Trapped in the lawless Chinese business jungle.
November 2, 2005.
[article accessed via Cal Poly internal ProQuest database]
Article Link
https://www.joc.com/maritime-news/marooned-americans-
get-no-help-china-police_19950319.html
https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.lib.calpoly.edu/globalnews/docview/3187006
65/fulltext/BDEDCC3B8D444CDCPQ/29?accountid=103
62
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
USA
USA (Chinese-American)
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Hefei, Anhui
Chengdu and Shanghai
Dispute Background
Troy McBride (a US businessman from Florida, had a
commercial dispute with Meheco. In 1994 Meheco won a
court judgment against McBride's wholly-owned
biochemical firm, Shenzhen New World Co. McBride
claimed that Meheco was trying to force him to sign
personal letters of guarantee not demanded or required by
the court in the 1994 case and settlement, which involved
transfers by Shenzhen New World Co. of cash, assets, and
property to Meheco over two years.
Apex Digital claimed that it owed its supplier Changhong
$150 million, while Changhong claimed that Apex owed it
$470 million and failed to pay. David Ji, the co-founder of
Apex, was detained by the police from Mianyang, a city in
southwestern Sichuan Province where Changhong has its
headquarters. Then, Mr. Ji was handed over to Changhong
and held hostage in a Changhong guesthouse. Mr. Ji was
requested to sign documents requiring the payment of the
debt. After six months of being held hostage, Ji was
handed over to the Mianyang police for formal arrest on
charges of financial instrument fraud.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Not specified, but it appears to be over five days
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Yes. Police didn't help McBride, and they allegedly told
taxi drivers that taking McBride to the airport would be
considered aiding a criminal.
Yes. Mr. Ji was apprehended by Chinese police during a
business trip. Article quote: "Changhong, a major state-
owned company in Sichuan Province, deployed the police,
prosecutors and judges in a campaign to collect its debt."
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes
Yes
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Yes
Result/Resolution/Status
The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai asked Anhui's Foreign
Affairs office to free McBride and argued that the seizure
of McBride's passport was an illegal confiscation of U.S.
government property. For all practical purposes, he is
therefore subject to an exit ban. Based on the article, we
don't know the result.
After the release from being held hostage, Mr. Ji was
handed over to the Mianyang police for formal arrest on
charges of "financial instrument fraud," an apparent
reference to the 37 checks he wrote Changhong. He was
released on restricted bail and allowed to move around
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, but cannot exit China and
was under strict orders not to discuss his case with anyone.
47
Case #3
Case #4
Article Title and Date
Businessman stranded in China; Chinese authorities seized
Steve Fleischli's passport over a dispute involving debts
his company owes. He's been there since January.
June 17, 2012. [article accessed via Cal Poly internal
ProQuest data base]
China steps up and widens use of exit bans on foreigners.
December 4, 2018.
Article Link
https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.lib.calpoly.edu/globalnews/docview/1026559
077/BD0596203E34FDDPQ/7?accountid=10362
https://www.afr.com/news/world/asia/china-steps-up-and-
widens-use-of-exit-bans-on-foreigners-20181129-h18jkh
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
USA
Australians (number not reported)
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Xiamen
Dispute Background
Due to an alleged dispute that NorthPole owed money to
suppliers in China, Steve Fleischli (former CEO of
NorthPole) went to China to try to solve the problem.
Fleischli attended a meeting with suppliers at a factory in
Xiamen, and was held hostage by suppliers for 36 hours.
Because of the unpaid debt to Chinese suppliers, and citing
Fleischli's status as NorthPole's legal representative in
China, he was not allowed to leave China. We include this
case in the sample because even though he was initially
held hostage by the supplier(s) and released, the Chinese
court then confiscated his passport, which in effect acts as
an exit ban, and it was clearly tied to the dispute.
The article describes a phenomenon that China is
increasing the use of exit bans to prevent foreign visitors,
including Australians, from leaving the country. In many
cases, foreigners are kept in the country because they are
related to someone involved in a business or legal dispute.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Over three months
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
No
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Yes
Result/Resolution/Status
Because Fleischli was the legal representative of
NorthPole in China, he was responsible for the company's
debts. We don't know if Fleischli was extricated from that
role later in order to leave China.
48
Case #5
Case #6
Article Title and Date
Why China’s exit ban is worrying for travelers.
December 20, 2018.
Beijing Is Holding U.S. Citizens ‘Hostage’ in China.
June 18, 2018.
Article Link
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-why-
China's-exit-ban-is-worrying/
https://www.thedailybeast.com/beijing-is-holding-us-
citizens-hostage-in-china?ref=scroll
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Primarily Canadian
USA (at least two dozen see below)
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Dispute Background
The article mentioned that Canada and the United States
have travel advisories in place that make note of China’s
exit bans. According to China’s Exit and Entry
Administration Law (EEA Law) adopted in 2012, non-
Chinese nationals shall not be allowed to exit China under
circumstances which could relate to investigations into an
individual, their family or an employer, and criminal and
civil matters, including business disputes. As per the travel
warning of the government of Canada: “You may not be
aware that authorities have placed an exit ban on you until
you try to leave the country.
Based on the U.S. State Department travel advisory for
U.S. citizens traveling to China, exit bans have been
imposed to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business
disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate
government investigations. The total number of exit bans
placed on U.S. citizens in China is unknown. The article
notes, however, that one analyst estimates at least two
dozen exit ban cases over the past year and half alone.
The authors confidentially confirmed with said analyst the
two dozen+ case estimate. Said analyst also acknowledged
the wide range of exit ban cases, from business disputes to
the Chinese government trying to root out corruption.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
49
Case #7
Case #8
Article Title and Date
China product defects, lawsuits, hostage taking and
exit ban: Please, please, please read this!
March 16, 2018.
Being wrongfully sued and not allowed to leave China.
2019.
Article Link
https://www.smartchinasourcing.com/china-product-
defects-lawsuits-hostage-taking-exit-ban-please-please-
please-read / and
https://www.chinalawblog.com/2018/03/china-product-
defects-lawsuits-hostage-taking-and-sinosure-please-
please-please-read-this.html
YouTube Support Video (January 18, 2021 - “Podcast ®07 // John
Graham: Shenzhen's iconic personal trainer and WCFN creator”) -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXR7UxDMrbc&feature=emb_l
ogo
Other (below links may be private/non-public):
Fundraising page (2019) -
https://gogetfunding.com/being-wrongfully-sued-in-china/
YouTube Support Video (March 16, 2019 - "Sued in China - 10 Year
Ban, Can't Leave!") - https://youtu.be/1K6TOcPw4fo
YouTube Support Video (November 24, 2019 “Case Update for our
generous donors”) - https://youtu.be/iMPFusjBI5o
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
It appears primarily Westerners
Australian
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Shenzhen
Dispute Background
The article discusses how foreign buyers can be
subjected to exit bans when involved in a business
dispute with their Chinese suppliers. In some cases,
foreign buyers frustrated by bad product simply refuse
to pay their Chinese factory. When the foreign buyer or
an employee of a foreign buyer then travels in China,
they are more likely to be held hostage by the suppliers
in a factory dormitory or in the cooperating hotel
(called 'soft kidnapping'), or not be permitted to leave
China until the foreign buyer resolves the dispute.
Allegedly, the Chinese authorities often work to
support or assist the Chinese suppliers in getting paid.
See discussion above (1. Introduction) regarding John Graham
Harper’s case.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Went on for roughly 2+ years. Australian government-
consulate was apparently not helpful.
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Mr. Harper was denied exiting China at the airport in
September 2018.
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes, it appears so
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Yes, although the Australian government-consulate was
apparently not helpful.
Result/Resolution/Status
See discussion above (1. Introduction) regarding John Graham
Harper’s case. In short, to settle the case/dispute and have the
exit ban removed, in late 2020 Mr. Harper worked out a
payment plan with the plaintiff to pay $50,000 RMB upfront
and $20,000 RMB every month thereafter for 15 months. See
January 18, 2021 YouTube video noted above at 2:18:45 to
end of video.
50
Case #9
Case #10
Article Title and Date
Incident shared by Mr. Harper (see Case #8 above).
2019.
Incident shared with authors by someone currently
subjected to an exit ban in China and unable to leave
Article Link
YouTube: “Thanks For Your Support Guys” (March 5,
2019) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyc5nrpOLcI
(1:40 to 2:12) (link may be private/non-public)
Confidential communication with authors
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Shenzhen
Dispute Background
The foreigner/endurance athlete in China (his business is
unknown) was blacklisted for six years in China and was
not allowed to leave the country. The case/dispute was
eventually settled and he was then apparently allowed to
leave China.
The person who owned/ran/operated a factory in Shenzhen
was not able to pay his Chinese supplier. The Chinese
supplier sued him and lobbied the Chinese authorities to
also blacklist him. However, before the exit ban could be
implemented, the foreigner apparently fled the country and
left his business behind, because he feared not being able
to exit China.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
6 years
Left China before the exit ban was implemented
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Yes, it appears so
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
51
Case #11
Case #12
Article Title and Date
Incident shared with authors by someone currently
subjected to an exit ban in China and unable to leave
深圳法院发布首批限制出境人员名单,包括 4名外籍 6
名港台籍
(Translation: The Shenzhen court issued the first list of
exit banned people, including four foreigners and six Hong
Kong and Taiwanese.)
September 9, 2018.
Article Link
Confidential communication with authors
https://new.qq.com/omn/20180918/20180918A0FEVZ.ht
ml
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
10 people total: Australian (1), Taiwanese (3), Hong Kong
(3), Japanese (1), South Korean (2).
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Dispute Background
"[A]nother [expat] friend I have did the exact same thing
when [he was] threatened to be blacklisted. Chinese
[themselves] are put on the blacklist all the time. In fact
most famous actors and celebrities due to tax evasion are
all blacklisted in China. It is something well known and
even joked about in China. How all the top celebs are all
stuck in the country. So to be put on the blacklist is a very
long process, the court needs to appeal to [work with]
immigration and that can take up to 6 months or so. There
are different levels of blacklist, all imposed by the
plaintiff. it's up to them how severe they can appeal
[pursue] and at which time. It can be as bad as a frozen
bank account, no public travel, trains, planes within the
country, no hotel reservation. you are basically stuck and
only able to use cash."
The Shenzhen court imposed exit bans on the persons
allegedly not meeting the obligations of certain legal
documents, and it issued a list of restricted persons. During
the period of restricted exit, if the person subject to the ban
performs all the obligations determined by the legal
documents in a timely manner, the enforcement court will
lift the exit ban. The people on the list are John Graham
Harper, Australian (owed RMB $223,841); Mr. Lin,
Taiwanese (owed RMB $500,000); Mr. Chen, Taiwanese
(owed RMB $20,355); Ms. Chen, Hong Kong (owed RMB
$519,494); Mr. Chen, Taiwanese (owed RMB
$1,233,980); Ms. Lau, Hong Kong (owed RMB $472,288);
Mr. Liao, Hong Kong (owed RMB $165,848); Mr. Cha,
South Korean (owed RMB $248,682); Hayashi Takeshi,
Japanese (owed RMB $113,761); Mr. Back, South Korean
(owed RMB $47,464.87). Further information cannot be
found on these individuals except Mr. Harper (Case #8).
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Learned of exit ban and left China before it was
implemented
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes, it appears so
Yes, it appears so
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
52
Case #13
Case #14
Article Title and Date
大陸台商面對民事債務糾紛,也可能會遭大陸法院限
制出境
(Translation: Taiwanese businessmen may be restricted to
leave mainland due to civil debt disputes.)
September 1, 2015.
广东法院限制欠款外商出境
(Translation: The Guangdong court restricts foreign
businessmen who have debt disputes from leaving China.)
September 16, 2009.
Article Link
http://www.law119.com.tw/newdesign/compchina/personc
ontent.asp?idno=6899&ktop=%A4j%B3%B0%A5x%B0%
D3%AD%B1%B9%EF&keywords=
https://www.rfa.org/cantonese/news/debt_investors-
09162009113624.html
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Taiwan
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Dispute Background
According to Taiwanese law, only when a person is
suspected of a crime or if taxes are owed will the judiciary
restrict a person from leaving the country; but for a civil
debt dispute, a restricted exit will not be ordered.
However, this is not the case in mainland China. If a
Taiwanese businessman has a debt dispute in mainland
China, his/her creditors may apply to the Chinese court for
enforcement to preserve the property or restrict the
businessman's exit.
Based on the article, foreign investors in Guangdong
Province who have been ordered to repay a debt by the
provincial courts cannot leave the country until the debt is
paid. The court can prohibit foreign investors who are in
debt from leaving the country, detain their entry and exit
documents, or even have them detained. The court can also
ask the police to provide targeted people's photos,
accommodations, entry and exit information, and seize
their vehicles.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
53
Case #15
Case #16
Article Title and Date
港人老賴欠 40 萬貨款 遭法院限制出境終還錢
(Translation: Hong Kong person owes RMB $400,000,
pay off after he was restricted from leaving the country by
the court).
December 27, 2016.
China Says Detained Canadian Worked for Group Without
Legal Registration.
December 12, 2018.
Article Link
https://hk.on.cc/cn/bkn/cnt/news/20161227/bkncn-
20161227191006205-1227_05011_001.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/world/asia/china-
michael-kovrig-detained.html
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Hong Kong
Canada
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Shishi City, Fujian
Beijing
Dispute Background
Mr. Cai, a 28-year-old Hong Kong businessman owed
more than $400,000 in connection with two sales contract
disputes. In 2013, Mr. Cai purchased fabrics from Mr. Liu
in Macao and owed RMB $293,000. Mr. Liu sued Mr. Cai
on October 21, 2014 and the court decided against Mr. Cai
in the case on April 16, 2014. In 2013, Mr. Cai bought
zippers from a zipper company in Shishi City and owed a
debt of RMB $112,600. The company filed a lawsuit in the
Shishi court on December 23, 2014. The court ruled
against Mr. Cai in that case on August 19, 2015.
Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, is a senior
adviser for Northeast Asia for the International Crisis
Group. Kovrig was detained in Beijing because he was
employed by an organization which was allegedly not
legally registered in China. He was a senior adviser for
Northeast Asia for the International Crisis Group, an
independent nongovernmental organization that tries to
defuse international conflicts. The state security agency in
Beijing investigated Kovrig on suspicion of activities that
endanger China’s national security. This case is arguably
political rather than business driven, but we included it in
the study because it technically meets the exit ban
definition (foreigner held because of the company's alleged
failure to properly register in China).
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Worked for an organization allegedly without proper legal
registration in China
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
20 days
December 10, 2018 present
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Mr. Cai was sentenced to detention for 15 days by the
Shishi City Court of Fujian Province on December 5,
2016, followed by an exit ban.
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes, it appears so
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Yes
Result/Resolution/Status
Mr. Cai was restricted from leaving the country by the
Shishi City Court of Fujian Province. Finally, due to
pressure, he asked his relatives in Shishi to pay off the
remaining arrears.
Mr. Kovrig was released and returned in Canada in
September 2021. See
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/24/world/meng-
wanzhou-huawei-trial
54
Case #17
Case #18
Article Title and Date
Global banks curb China travel after UBS banker stopped
from leaving.
October 22, 2018.
华联董事亲太子党 新光天地内幕曝光
(Translation: Hualian Board in Close Ties with Party
Princelings: Internals of “Shin Kong Place” Disclosed).
September 5, 2007.
Article Link
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ubs-group-china-
banker/global-banks-curb-china-travel-after-ubs-banker-
stopped-from-leaving-idUSKCN1MW1AU
http://www.epochtimes.com/gb/7/9/3/n1821573.htm
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Taiwan
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Beijing
Beijing
Dispute Background
The banker, who is based in Singapore and works as a
client relationship manager in UBS's wealth management
unit, was asked to "remain in China and meet with local
authorities/officials," even though she had intended to
depart Beijing. Thus, while no legal action had been filed
requesting an exit ban, as a practical matter, she concluded
she had no meaningful choice but to agree to remain in
China.
Ji Xiao'an, the chairman of Beijing Hualian Group,
attempted to seize management control of Shin Kong Place
by accusing the Shin Kong Place management team of
being involved in the corruption of a renovation project.
Further, that Xinda Wu (senior manager of Shin Kong
Place), had also allegedly leaked national secrets. Wu was
not allowed to board at the Beijing Airport. Wu was
restricted to external contacts and prohibited from leaving
China.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Unclear, but article suggests it was tied to a
business/commercial activity or dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
One week
5 days
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
China authorities "requested" a UBS banker to not leave
the country
Wu was apprehended at Beijing airport by Chinese police
while boarding.
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes, it appears so
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
Global banks including UBS, Citigroup, and Standard
Chartered asked their private banking staff to postpone or
reconsider future travel to China.
A large number of Taiwanese media reported on this
commercial dispute, and the public pressure on the China
Taiwan Affairs Office increased greatly. In response, it
appears the China Taiwan Affairs Office lifted the exit ban
on Wu.
55
Case #19
Case #20
Article Title and Date
上海和鑫电子有限公司申请执行小平克彦董事损害
公司利益纠纷案
(Translation: The Case of the Dispute of Property
Restitution between Shanghai Hexin Electronics, Ltd.,
and Kodaira Katsuhiko).
Related article: 对当事人提出限制出境申请的审查
(Translation: Examination of Applications by Parties to
Restrict Exit). February 10, 2010
Orange County businessman barred from leaving China
for two weeks returns to U.S.
January 28, 2011
Article Link
http://www.shezfy.com/view.html?id=11428
and
http://rmfyb.chinacourt.org/paper/html/2010-
02/10/content_4136.htm?div=-1
https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2011-jan-28-
la-fi-china-horowitz-20110128-story.html
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Japan
USA
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Shanghai
Shanghai
Dispute Background
Board member Kodaura Katsuhiko allegedly
misappropriated RMB $324,000 from Hexin
Electronics. Katsuhiko claimed that the money was used
to pay his salary. After Katsuhiko left the board, Hexin
Electronics requested the return of the funds and was
rejected by Katsuhiko. In June 2003, Hexin Electronics
filed a lawsuit and the judgment demanded Katsuhiko
return the money plus interest, but Katsuhiko did not
fulfill his obligation. In May 2009, Hexin Electronics
filed a lawsuit again to ask the court to take restrictions
on exit measures against Katsuhiko. In June 2009, the
court ruled Katsuhiko was restricted from leaving the
country.
See discussion above (1. Introduction) regarding Brian
Horowitz’s case.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Two weeks
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court ruled
Katsuhiko was restricted from leaving the country.
Yes
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Yes
Yes
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status
Katsuhiko paid RMB $380,000 to Hexin Electronics to
remove the exit ban.
See discussion above (1. Introduction) regarding Brian
Horowitz’s case. In short, Horowitz’s wife wired the
$250,000 and he was allowed to leave China. He is
investigating an appeal to get his money back.
56
Case #21
Case #22
Article Title and Date
Incident shared by former government official who
worked in China. The events are relevant to the study
and it was therefore included in the data set.
‘He needs to be allowed to come home Irish man
detained in China for 15 months - June 12, 2020
Irish businessman told he must pay $36m to leave China
January 31, 2021
Article Link
Confidential communication with authors
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/he-
needs-to-be-allowed-to-come-home-irish-man-detained-
in-china-for-15-months-1.4276601
https://www.independent.ie/business/world/irish-
businessman-told-he-must-pay-36m-to-leave-china-
40026124.html
Nationality of Impacted
Foreigner (If Mentioned)
USA
Ireland
Dispute Location (If
Mentioned)
Was not able to disclose
Shanghai
Dispute Background
American salesman caught in the middle of a dispute
between his US company and Chinese company. US
company went bankrupt while the salesman was in
China. The Chinese company wanted him to pay the
alleged bill for his company but he could not do so. An
exit ban was put in place to keep him from leaving
China. He spent months living in a basement because
his family did not have the money to pay the Chinese
company.
Richard O’Halloran travelled to China in February 2019
to meet investors and assess the problems facing his
firm in China. After a week of meetings in Shanghai he
was detained at passport control at the airport as he tried
to board his flight back to Dublin. An exit ban was later
issued. Shanghai police have demanded he pay $30
million (EURO) in order for him to return home.
Driver of the Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Business dispute
Business dispute (aviation leasing)
Length of Exit Ban (If
Mentioned)
Months
Nearly two years, remains ongoing (as of February
2021)
Were the Police or
Courts Involved? If So,
When and How (If
Mentioned)?
It appears so
Yes
Did the Exit Ban Legal
Process Appear to be
Followed (If Discussed
in the Article)?
Unclear
Yes
Was the Foreigner's
Consulate or Embassy at
Some Point Involved (If
Mentioned)?
Confidential
Yes
Result/Resolution/Status
The salesman finally managed to escape China. It is
unknown how he got out.
In January 2022, right before the opening of the Beijing
2022 Winter Olympics, Mr. O’Hallaran was finally
allowed to return home, after roughly three years in
China.
57
APPENDIX C INFORMATION REQUEST TEMPLATE
The next page sets forth the template we followed to request government records on exit bans.
Although there were similarities between countries for what was required in the request, there
were also differences, including who could submit the request. For example, some countries
required a citizen to submit the request (Canada), Germany required the applicant to be a citizen
or E.U. resident, while the other countries had no such constraint, or if they did, it was not
enforced (Australia, Netherlands, U.K., U.S.).
As a FOIA strategy, we tried to be reasonable - that is, to be clear what was requested, try to
address anticipated privacy and security objections in advance that might otherwise delay the
processing of the request, and be candid about what would be done with the information. We
also provided the agencies with solutions regarding possible ways they might respond that we
would accept and might be convenient for them. Further, the initial request started with a wide
time period, knowing that the request may need to be later significantly narrowed as to time, to
be accommodating to the consular and embassy staffs processing the requests.
58
INFORMATION REQUEST TEMPLATE
[Requestor] respectfully requests all summaries, reports, memorandums, correspondence or similar summary
documents that fall within the below country/region, time period and topics:
Country/Region: People’s Republic of China
Time Period Covered: January 1, ___ to December 31, 2017 [We began submitting these requests in mid-2018.
The below language was modified as needed for each country and its requirements.]
Topics:
Exit Bans where foreigners are prevented from leaving China.
Explanatory Notes:
It is believed that as exit ban cases occur in China, in at least some cases [your country] officials inside China (via
Embassies, Missions, or Consulates) or outside of China would be notified or brought in to monitor or assist [your]
citizens and their businesses. Further, it is believed that records, statistics, reports, correspondence, etc. of some sort
would in turn be created and kept regarding said cases.
[Requestor’s] primary interest is statistics re: the number/frequency of [your] recorded citizen cases that fall into the
exit ban category connected to a civil business dispute, during January 1, ___ to December, 31, 2017. [Requestor]
seeks information on cases where China’s exit ban legal process was followed and those cases where it appears to
not have been followed. If said statistics are aggregated and not broken down into such granular detail, producing
the aggregate information is acceptable.
[Requestor] does not seek [your] government discussions/deliberations on these topics.
This request is for an academic study.
If your statistics and documents also identify where in China these events/cases occurred (as in the province or city)
that would be helpful. Further, if they also identify the industry in which they occurred, that would also be helpful.
Do you have such summary documents, reports, memos, etc. that contain the above-desired primary and secondary
information? If not, then does such information exist in some other form? If such summary documents
do not exist, a possible alternative idea for how to approach the gathering and production of this desired
information and documents is the following ...
Electronic (free-text) searches could be done of your embassy and/or consular records using terms such as "exit ban”
or “outbound restriction”. If these suggested terms don't fit, [requestor] welcomes your feedback for what terms
or language or category you instead use to describe such incidents, and the search can be conducted using those
terms.
[Requestor] also appreciates that an electronic search might yield documents containing the identity of specific
individuals, families or businesses. However, [requestor] does not need or seek such information or that level of
detail. In other words, any privacy concern could be eliminated by simply blackening-out or redacting
such personal information.
Moreover, to better accommodate your staff, if such an electronic search is undertaken, [requestor] would not need
every document from such files on these people/incidents. Just one (1) document from said file or case that
documents the exit ban, would suffice. Duplicative documents are not required.
Finally, if it is more convenient for your staff to create and produce your own summary or extract of the primary
information (number/frequency) and secondary information (province/city and industry) requested above, that is
acceptable. [Requestor] is willing to cover copy charges up to $ ___ USD. Anything larger, please discuss in
advance.
59
APPENDIX D DATABASES USED FOR MEDIA SEARCHES
English Sources
Chinese Sources
Google, Google News, Google Scholar
ProQuest Global Newsstream
LexisNexis
Westlaw
Google Search, Baidu
China National Knowledge Infrastructure
(CNKI)
People’s Daily (Chinese language
version)
National Taiwan University Library and
database
Central News Agency (Taiwan)
China Judgments Online at
https://wenshu.court.gov.cn
We acknowledge that Hong Kong, Singaporean, and Taiwanese sources or databases are
perceived by some as more reliable than the four PRC sources/databases listed in the above table.
However, the “western” Google database and ProQuest database we used covered and located
Hong Kong and Taiwanese media articles, as did the National Taiwan University Library and
Central News Agency databases. All four of these databases also covered Singaporean media
articles, as did our Google search using traditional and simplified Chinese. However, no such
Singaporean articles were located. Using the databases listed above, the probability of our
“missing” a large number of additional articles about exit ban cases in China, we believe, is low.
Further, China Judgments Online (https://wenshu.court.gov.cn) is an excellent resource and
database. However, it appears to track local-to-local cases and disputes, not local-to-foreign
disputes. For example, when exit ban or xianzhi chujing “禁止出境 was typed in, 43 results
were retrieved. When the term outbound restrictions “出境限制 was typed in, 5141 results were
retrieved. A random review of a number of those results did not reveal any local-versus-foreigner
60
disputes. When exit ban or xianzhi chujing and foreigner “禁止出境 外國人 was typed in, 0
results were located, and when outbound restrictions and foreigner “出境限制 外國人 were
typed in, 0 results were also received. This is why none of the cases discussed in Appendix B
refer to this database.
61
APPENDIX E SEARCH TERMS USED IN MEDIA SEARCHES
The English search terms listed in the table below were translated into Mandarin and used to
search the Chinese sources/databases. The search terms include individual terms and
combinations thereof. We used both traditional and simplified Chinese to search for articles, and
we found no difference in search results between the two (i.e., the same articles were located
using both traditional and simplified searches). This also included a Google search using both
traditional and simplified Chinese terms. By doing this, we located the responsive articles with
the selected key words entered. If there was a concern, it would be whether we used all possible
“accurate” terms. In short, no database search is perfect, and we did the best we could.
English terms
Exit ban
Exit restriction
Outbound restriction
Travel ban
Foreign
Foreigner
Western
Westerner
Business
Commercial
Foreign business
Western business
China
Mandarin terms
禁止 出境/禁止 離境
限制 出境/限制 離境
禁止 出國/限制 出國
旅遊 禁止/旅遊 限制
外國
外國人
西方
西方人
生意/商業/公司/企業
生意/商業/公司/企業
外國 公司/外國 企業
西方 公司/西方 企業
中國/大陸/內地
62
APPENDIX F MEDIA SEARCH RUBRIC
We used the rubric below to organize and compare the information culled from our media searches.
Article Title and Date
Article Link
Nationality of Impacted Foreigner (If Mentioned)
Dispute Location (If Mentioned)
Dispute Background
Driver of the Exit Ban (If Mentioned)
Length of Exit Ban (If Mentioned)
Were the Police or Courts Involved? If So, When and How (If Mentioned)?
Did the Exit Ban Legal Process Appear to be Followed (If Discussed in the Article)?
Was the Foreigner’s Consulate or Embassy at Some Point Involved (If Mentioned)?
Result/Resolution/Status?
63
APPENDIX G EXIT BAN TARGETS, BY BUSINESS OR INDUSTRY
TYPE
Business or industry type
Commodity (C) industries
vs.
Specialized (S) industries
Number of cases in that sector
S: Aviation leasing
1
S: Biochemical
1
C: Electronics
2
S: Financial services/banking
1
C: Garment/textiles/fabrics
1
C: Gym (fitness and equipment)
1
C: Home appliances (blenders)
1
S: NGO dedicated to conflict prevention (failure to
properly register)
1
C: Outdoor equipment manufacturer
1
C: Retail (specifics unknown)
1
C: Unspecified, but the case appeared to involve a
low-end product made at a Shenzhen factory
1
Unable to determine business or industry type
10
TOTAL
Commodity
Specialized
Undetermined
22
8
4
10
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
A “commercial hostage” or “debt hostage” situation involves a dispute between a foreign company and its local partner over such matters as payment, the closing of a local office or facility, the laying off of local employees, the transfer or ownership of intellectual property, etc. Rather than file a lawsuit seeking money damages or an injunction, the local partner takes extra-judicial steps to detain the foreigner against their will, so as to pressure the foreign company into resolving the dispute. The local police may even actively assist the local partner by way of inaction when the foreign company asks for help. While this activity occurs in a number of countries, this study focuses on China. One challenge in studying commercial hostage situations is gathering enough cases to be able to gauge the factors that drive them. Stated differently, how can scholars shift the study of this important topic from the anecdotal to a data-based approach? This study is an initial attempt to do just that – it mainly attempts to gauge the frequency of recent commercial hostage activity in the P.R.C. Secondarily, it sheds light on where that activity occurs, why, and the identity of its victims. To accomplish this, Freedom of Information Act requests were submitted to six Western countries (including the U.S.) with significant China trade. English and Chinese business and legal media reports were also searched for commercial hostage cases involving foreigners. Between these two sources, dozens of commercial hostage incidents were identified. The vast majority occurred in or near Tier 1 cities and/or coastal regions, a significant number involved foreign firms operating in the commodity goods space, and a disproportionate percentage involved ethnic Chinese. Building on these findings, we conclude by providing a risk assessment matrix that foreign businesspersons can use to evaluate the risk of traveling to the P.R.C. for business. As trade tensions rise between the U.S. and China, the importance of this issue and evaluating commercial hostage risk may only increase.
Article
In recent years, literature has pointed to the problem of exit restrictions that may be imposed upon defaulting debtors in China. The Civil Procedure Law allows courts to impose exit restriction as a measure to enforce judicial decisions, but the Exit-Entry Administration Law extends this regulation to pending civil cases. The practice of courts to apply exit restriction as a form of injunction exhibits a number of problems: the legal basis is vague, the scope of application to legal persons is unclear and courts often conduct only a formal examination of applications. As their aim is not to directly safeguard assets in dispute, it is debatable whether exit restrictions should be classified as preservative measures as applied by courts. When a legal entity is a defendant in a civil case, exit restriction can be applied to almost any of its managerial staff. Finally, exit restrictions are a considerable impingement on personal freedom, and yet, in practice, they are imposed in a quick and severe manner and legal remedies are opaque. As a result, a high degree of legal uncertainty evolves, which may well deter foreign individuals and enterprises from investing in China.
Beijing is holding U.S. citizens 'hostage' in China, The Daily Beast
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Allen-Ebrahimian, B. (2018). Beijing is holding U.S. citizens 'hostage' in China, The Daily Beast. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/beijing-is-holding-us-citizens-hostagein-china.
Podcast of a discussion between ASPI President Kevin Rudd and Lowy Institute Senior Fellow Richard McGregor, also with the full text of Rudd
Asia Society Policy Institute, The trade war, economic decoupling, and future Chinese strategy towards America (2019), https://asiasociety.org/policy-institute/trade-war-economicdecoupling-and-future-chinese-strategy-towards-america (Podcast of a discussion between ASPI President Kevin Rudd and Lowy Institute Senior Fellow Richard McGregor, also with the full text of Rudd's prepared remarks for the event).
A quick guide to the US-China trade war
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BBC News, A quick guide to the US-China trade war (2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45899310.
Decoupling of US and Chinese economies is 'inevitable' and is being accelerated by trade war, South China Morning Post
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Bermingham, F. (2018). Decoupling of US and Chinese economies is 'inevitable' and is being accelerated by trade war, South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/2175795/decoupling-us-andchinese-economies-inevitable-and-being.
Will I return to China?
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ChinaFile (2021). Will I return to China? Retrieved from https://www.chinafile.com/conversation/will-i-return-china.
The execution of civil judgements in China, 141 The China Quarterly
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