State Department warns you if you plan to travel to China

When the federal agency responsible for keeping Americans safe abroad issues a travel warning, it's important for travelers to pay attention — even if it involves a popular tourist destination. So while this may cast a pall on your travel plans, it's important to heed the new China travel warning urging Americans to "exercise increased caution" when visiting the country.

In addition to conducting diplomacy, one of the State Department's primary functions is to act on behalf of U.S. citizens abroad. If you encounter a difficult situation abroad, the Department of State is here to help you resolve the issue. However, to prevent these tricky situations from happening, the department also issues travel warnings for countries that U.S. citizens are advised to avoid or that travelers are advised to take extra caution.

The U.S. State Department issued a new warning to U.S. travelers to China on Thursday, saying it "arbitrarily enforces local laws and special restrictions on U.S.-China dual citizenship."

"Chinese authorities have broad powers to prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving China through 'exit bans,' sometimes keeping U.S. citizens in China for years," the travel warning said.

The State Department uses four levels of travel warnings, from Level 1 ("Take normal precautions") to Level 4 ("Do not travel"). According to the State Department website, a Level 1 travel warning applies to all countries that do not have a higher level warning. Essentially, it just encourages travelers to be careful when traveling abroad.

The new travel warning for China goes just one step further than Level 2: "elevated vigilance." Specifically, the warning states that China uses the aforementioned exit ban for three purposes, all of which could pose dangers to U.S. citizens traveling there: “[Forcing] U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, [Luring] individuals from China back overseas , and [assist] the Chinese authorities to resolve civil disputes in a manner that is beneficial to the Chinese parties.”

U.S. relations with China have been in the news a lot recently, including President Donald Trump's trade war with China and the arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO and Chinese citizen Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. officials.

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Reuters writes that relations between the two countries became more tense after China arrested two Canadian citizens for violating Chinese laws to protect national security. The new travel warning may be at least partly a reaction to these events, Reuters reported.

If you do plan to go to China, the Travel Advisory page provides guidance on what you should do there. Always carry your U.S. passport and valid Chinese visa with you, and sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so the Department of State can contact you if something unexpected happens. If the worst happens and you are arrested or detained while trying to enter or leave the country, ask police or other officials to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate immediately.

Traveling to China is not completely impossible, but you should take care to stay safe during your visit.