The Diplomat: The Coming Political Restrictions on Chinese Outbound Travel

Discouraging outbound travel from China is perceived to be effective thanks to the ability of an ever-increasing number of spendthrift Chinese tourists boosting local economies wherever they go. Chinese tourists spent $288 billion abroad in 2018, responsible for a quarter of all global tourism revenues. The figure is expected to grow further to $365 billion by 2025. Other estimates predict the number of Chinese traveling abroad will double from the current 149.7 million in the 2020s as the percentage of Chinese citizens with a passport increase from 10 percent to 20 percent. Seeing such figures, it is no wonder that some countries are willing to appease the Chinese government to increase their intake of more Chinese travelers in the future.

However, such a sanguine view of unimpeded growth in Chinese outbound travel numbers ignores a fundamental political reality. Under the Xi Jinping administration, the Chinese government has increased efforts to prevent the dissemination of Western liberal ideas. Yet one of the prime ways for these Western ideas to be disseminated in China is through returning Chinese citizens who have traveled or studied abroad. For the Chinese government to ensure that “harmful” foreign values are not brought into Chinese political discourse, it makes enormous sense to not only make sure Chinese citizens do not acquire them at home from foreign individuals or media outlets, but also prevent them from getting “infected” while traveling to foreign lands and interacting with locals there.

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