Americans, Australians, British and Canadians Are Being Singled Out in China and I’ve Got Proof

China's criminal law system

One of the things I’ve done since the inception of this blog is try to help young people in trouble in China. Mostly this has involved my telling thousands of English teachers NOT to cause a stink with their employers that have not paid them. I tell them I understand why they are angering at having gone months without a paycheck, but that battling in any way with their employer will likely only make matters worse.

I then tell them about how I often get emails from English teachers who have complained about non-payment and then get arrested, put in jail for 15-30 days and then deported. Not exactly what you want on your record if you are a 23-year old just starting in your career. I then tell them that even if they were to sue their employer, they have almost no shot at prevailing and in the meantime, they will be stuck in China with no job. My advice nine times out of ten is to leave China as quickly as possible and never return, and get a teacher job elsewhere. Anywhere else really. See Leave China Now! for more on this.

Then there are the kids caught with cannabis. I tell them to get a good Chinese criminal lawyer as quickly as possible and in cities in which I know such lawyers, I give them names. I also tell them how China’s court system is very different from the West’s and how if they have any issues about the advice they are getting from their lawyers, to feel free to discuss that with me. Most importantly I tell them that the usual thing is to be put in jail for 15-30 days and then deported, without any trial.

I have spent the last week or so cleaning up my email box and that involves writing people for updates. I sought updates from a number of people arrested in China for cannabis violations and in the last week I have received incredibly disquieting information from three of them. These three people told me that their judges (in different cities) had initially told them not to worry because they were merely facing deportation, but within the last two months they have been told by their judges — somewhat apologetically — that they [the judges] have been “notified that all cases with people from – Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada now need to go through the court. In other words, people from these countries are being singled out for full-blown criminal trials and I very much fear the results of that. I greatly fear that these people are going to be sentenced to 2-5 years for cannabis possession.

Now I know many of you are going to be saying that if these people did the crime they should do the time, and though I believe cannabis should be fully legalized, I can at least somewhat understand this position if trial and sentencing were actually based on the crime and not on one’s ethnicity/nationality.

What this latest news tells me only reinforces what I have known to be true for a long, long time. China is willing to sacrifice what little fairness and due process it has in its court system to extract revenge against the countries it does not like on any given day. This latest news also reinforces that the countries at the top of the CCP’s hate list are the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. On October 17, 2019, in China Detains 2 Americans Amid Growing Scrutiny of Foreigners, the New York Times wrote the following:

“China has become a risky place,” Dan Harris, a lawyer at Harris Bricken . . . . says.  If you are going to do business there you had better know what the laws are and you had better follow them, because China is not going to let anyone slide, especially not an American or a Canadian. Little things that were virtually ignored for years are leading to foreigners going to jail.”

It sure has and if you are American, Australian, British or Canadian, you better recognize this and try to spend as little time as possible in China and to scrupulously follow every single aspect of Chinese law. On top of that, if you are from the United States, Australia, Great Britain or Canada, and you were a diplomat, in the military, or tied to an NGO, like Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor — you run an increased risk of being arrested for nothing more than for who you were.

What are you seeing out there?


8 responses to “Americans, Australians, British and Canadians Are Being Singled Out in China and I’ve Got Proof”

  1. I have been warning people not to fly through Hong Kong or Shanghai. Being from Vancouver we are seeing the actions of the PRC very clearly.

  2. Dan:

    I love the insight that you provide. However, isn’t China’s behavior in retaliation to Trump’s belligerent comments and vile behavior not only toward China, but toward the whole world including our allies?


    Omar Kazzaz

  3. Many teachers I know want to return to China and they have been advised not to return. It is an interesting twist of events. I am an online teacher. I do not intend to travel.

  4. There are two very different topics here.

    One is regarding an employer failing to pay an employee. A related issue to this is if an employer refuses to provide the related documents for an employee to move on to a new job. If the employee is legally working in China (e.g. holding a work permit and residence permit), then there are legal methods that one can take and many have been successful with in order to obtain such documents. Usually, I would suggest, after the employee has successfully transferred their employment then they consider fighting for the back wages. Many people have successfully recovered back salary too, but mostly the employment transfer is the more pressing matter. There are procedures for this too. Usually the question is the value because of the price of a legal fee.

    The other is regarding cannabis and such drugs of any type is really a crime in China. It does not matter your nationality. Many people do have a false impression that the laws are not strongly enforced in China, but that is changing. China is not the only country that has strict drug related laws. Many have had full trials for such offenses even if they were from a country other than the listed ones.

  5. Hasn’t it always been the case that, in China, the laws are on the books, but how they are enforced depends on who you are and who you know, regardless of your nationality? In both cases – people being deported for teaching English (presumably without a legal work permit), and people possessing an illegal drug – both sets of people were breaking the law, and they were punished according to the law, yes? When you get pulled over for speeding, is “but you didn’t pull over the guy in front of me,” considered a valid claim of “unfair treatment”? If Americans and other native speakers of English were being punished when they did *not* break the law, that would be one thing, but in both of the cases above, it sounds like they are simply not getting special treatment when they are caught actually breaking the law. Is the difference with the US that in the US, getting off easy vs. getting the book thrown at you is a function of how good a lawyer you can afford, and not where you’re from? Maybe these are fightin’ words on a lawyer’s blog 🙂

    • Good questions. It has always been riskier to be a foreigner in China than a native. This should come as no surprise, because this is true in most countries. What has changed is that it is now riskier to be a foreigner from the UK, the United States, Australia and Canada than to be a foreigner from most other countries. And yes, it’s quite possible all of these people are guilty (I do not know) but what is happening to them is that they would have been slapped on the wrist for what they did but it is now looking like they will be going to prison for years and this change in sentencing is not based on what they did; it is explicitly based on their nationality.

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