The advisory, which came from the central Presidents’ Office (which covers all nine UC campuses), began with the update to the US State Department’s travel advisory level. However, it also added advice from third-party safety and security firm WorldAware, which caused consternation on Twitter.
“University of California headquarters internally relayed the guidance from WorldAware”
It includes advice to “not sign anything”, “do not give up your passport unless forced to do so”, and “do not make any unfavourable political statements… on social media”. It does not give any context for this advice,
Responding to a tweet sharing screenshots of the email from Gary Leonard, users said the advice should be disregarded, while others joked that it seemed far too extreme.
Several people said the advice made China sound like North Korea, which was “a bit exaggerated”.
The message also garnered the attention of traditional media, with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reporting on the matter.
In a statement sent to The PIE News, the University of California system office explained the contents of the email was not produced by the institution or its employee but was “relayed” after consultation with WorldAware.
“The Office of Risk Services of the University of California headquarters internally relayed the guidance from WorldAware (a security and risk management company with whom we consult) to risk managers on our campuses and medical centers. We sent the email following a recent Department of State travel advisory for China; it is meant for consideration by staff involved in ensuring the safety and security of international travel by individuals in the UC community.”
At the time of publication, the UC office has yet to reply to further requests for clarification.
“We have never had students who have spoken of interference with any apps”
The warning comes at a time of heightened diplomatic US-Sino tensions, following both president Trump and president Xi’s “trade war”, and allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft by Chinese tech firm Huawei.
This impasse recently boiled over, with the arrest (in Canada) and extradition of Meng Wanzhou to the US in December. This has led to reprisals within China, including arrests of Canadian citizens Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor. The businessmen were held in December, accusing them of threatening national security.
Further, on January 14 Robert Schellenberg (a Canadian serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking, a charge he denies) was sentenced to death in what was reported as an unusually quick appeal trial. This was in stark contrast to the two-year process Chinese authorities undertook to convict Schellenberg.
But despite recent events, CRCC Asia which describes itself as a leading China study abroad company, told The PIE News that while health and safety concerns are something all students travelling to China must consider, its students have not experienced issues or interference with their communications or technology.
“We do appreciate that students need to consider all aspects of health and safety before going on an international program. The US Travel Advisory Level for China has been at Level 2 since January 2018, which is the same level as various countries including Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom,” the statement read.
“We acknowledge that US-China relations have been in the news more frequently recently and we are watching closely to see if there is any escalation. That said, all of our current and recent students have been safe and unaffected by the situation and with over 9000 alumni of the program, we have never had students who have spoken of interference with any apps or technology that they are using.
“We will continue to heed the US Travel Advisory guidelines to exercise caution and we always ask all participants to behave respectfully and in accordance with Chinese law.”