The Latest China Supply Risk You Need to Know About

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Logistics, Public Policy

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Thought you had the China supply risks covered? More than one supplier, multiple logistics options, natural disaster contingency planning… yep? Try this: employee arrest and detention.

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Here’s What Happened

As we reported soon after it happened last week, the Bureau of Consular Affairs under the U.S. Department of State has issued a warning of an increased risk of arbitrary arrest and detention when U.S. citizens, particularly those of dual nationality, come to leave China. According to the notice, Chinese authorities have asserted broad authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving China by using ‘exit bans.’ The post states China uses exit bans coercively:

  1. “To compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations,
  2. To lure individuals back to China from abroad, and
  3. To aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”

According to the notice, U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to “state security.”

Why It Happened

Sounds serious, doesn’t it? But to be fair, the current notice is largely a repeat of one issued the same time last year and China retains a Level 2 caution, according to U.S. authorities — meaning two out of four travelers should “exercise increased caution” when in the country. This is a warning that has at times applied to parts of Europe due to a perceived risk from terrorism.

According to Conde Nast Traveler, the advisory follows high-profile cases in December in which two Canadian businessmen, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were detained for unspecified reasons, citing a Reuters report. Both Kovrig and Spavor remain in detention in China and are awaiting trial, with the U.S. and Canada calling for their release. In total, some 13 Canadians have been detained of late in moves said to be linked to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Some put the restatement of the travel advisory down to increased trade tensions between the U.S. and China following President Trump’s trade war, but while such issues don’t help, the reality is China has always imposed strict censorship laws and still rigidly controls free speech. It uses such laws in situations that Western societies find arbitrary and unrelated, but the Chinese no doubt brought in the laws with the express intention of giving them a catch-all legal framework to bring leverage if they felt an individual, company or even country was not acting in China’s best interests.

What It Means for Metal Buyers

Buying organizations should, from time to time, be reminded that China is not a benign democracy, but an autocratic single-party state controlled by an increasingly powerful centrist elite.

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The West’s view that China would become progressively more liberal and democratic over time has proved to be fundamentally flawed — and with that realization, our perception of risk for employees and contractors we send or employ there should change too.

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