One of the world’s most restrictive travel restrictions, aimed at curbing the movement of children of foreign criminals from China to the West, will be lifted in the country’s southern province of Guangdong, where several pre-teen agents are based, state media reported.
The 18-year-old prohibitions will end Jan. 1, according to Chen Jianping, the head of immigration at Guangdong’s Zhuhai division of the police. Many teen agents, part of the age of majority in China, have been based in the province, and are often driven there by their families and others from their homelands to engage in extortive forms of revenue and develop their spy networks, according to Chinese human rights lawyers.
Chen said about 1,000 of those 16- and 17-year-olds had undergone training by Chinese intelligence operatives at the time of their arrests. “This is an entry-exit admission into Chinese intelligence,” he told the Beijing News.
Zhuhai has reportedly cracked down on pre-teen agents since 2013, when authorities discovered a network that allegedly bribed a U.S. military psychiatrist to provide biometric data on thousands of local doctors and staff. Zhang Minzhao, the brother of the unnamed man with the compromised database, was arrested in 2016 for being an organizer of the fraud operation.
The new relaxation of visa restrictions comes as China opens up more than 200 sections of its domestic media network in the coming days to enable the global public to access the first television adaptation of “Dance Academy” from South Korean sensation Yoon Jeong-hyeop. The two-part adaptation of the popular fantasy drama is set to premiere on Chinese television Wednesday.
Chen Jianping said “new people such as adolescent recruits of the department and others” would be given new residency status and travel documents. The Citizen Project’s Warren M. Lau commented on Chen’s assertion that pre-teen members of the network would be automatically granted “nationalities specific” licenses, suggesting they would require special permission from their local government for each crossing into the country.
As yet, more than 200,000 Chinese children have been denied entry to the U.S. under the requirements. The Department of State has said it plans to scale back the regulations by January.
The new policy has caused tensions with the U.S. “We have no intention of altering this policy,” said Lu Kang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, during a regular news briefing on Jan. 3. However, Li Baodong, chief spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, said while the social structure of “the United States is changing, the policy of denaturalization is not.”
A growing number of youth agents have been caught in recent years in the West. In 2017, Chinese intelligence agents held the member of a Chinese “dukeng,” or enforcer-generation organization, for a year after he disappeared while on a trip to Canada.