Nomura executive’s travel ban raises concerns for foreign companies in China
“When democratic countries do business in un-democratic countries, it exposes their staff, executives, and their investors to authoritarian systems that operate with impunity, and this puts them at significant risk,” says Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Due Process International, while discussing the recent travel ban imposed on Charles Wang Zhonghe, the chairman of investment banking for China at Nomura, by Chinese authorities. “Integrating anti-democratic regimes into the global economy was supposed to help open those countries up to political reform, but countries like China, and the Gulf States, have learned that they can reap the economic benefits of integration while remaining authoritarian; foreign professionals and investors in these countries are in a very vulnerable position, as we see in the case of Mr. Wang.”
Wang's situation is just one example of the growing trend of executives disappearing or being banned from travel in China, which is a concerning development for the rule of law and due process in the country, Stirling says.
This situation is particularly alarming, she explains, because Wang has been told that he can move freely within mainland China but not leave. This travel freeze is the most high-profile incident involving a foreign bank in China, and it raises serious questions about the safety and security of foreign professionals working in the country.
“Due process is a fundamental principle of justice, and it is essential for protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals,” Stirling says. “The Chinese government must respect the rule of law, and it must provide clear explanations and legal recourse for anyone facing travel bans or other restrictions on their movement, as per the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The normalisation of the suspension of due process in China is a worrying trend that should concern anyone who values the rule of law and human rights, Stirling cautions. The Chinese government has been criticised for its treatment of human rights activists, journalists, and other dissidents, and the recent travel ban on Wang is yet another example of how the government is willing to use its power to restrict the movement of foreign professionals without providing transparent justifications for such restrictions.
This is not the first time that foreign executives have faced travel bans or disappeared in China. In 2018, the former head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, disappeared during a trip to China and was later accused of corruption. In 2019, two Canadian citizens were detained in China in what was widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese executive in Canada. These incidents, along with Wang's situation, raise serious concerns about the rule of law and due process in China, particularly in relation to foreign executives, professionals, and investors.
The Chinese government has a history of cracking down on alleged corruption and financial crimes, but these efforts have often been criticised for lacking transparency and due process. “This is not unique to China,” Stirling explains, “We have dealt with similar situations in the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Accusations of corruption or financial wrongdoing are frequently directed at innocent individuals to shift blame from locals who have actually committed the offences. We have seen foreigners in Ras Al Khaimah, for example, detained in secret facilities for months or even years, subjected to torture, their families threatened, and forced to confess or to incriminate others, solely for the purpose of diverting guilt from powerful local players. One of the first steps in this process is typically a travel ban.
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“Clearly, this represents a violation of Mr. Wang’s freedom of movement as guaranteed by the UDHR, to which China is a signatory,” Stirling explains, “He has not been formally charged with any offence, and while he is not being held in detention, the travel ban unquestionably puts his safety in jeopardy; as there is every reason to expect escalation by the authorities, which could lead to Wang’s disappearance if no diplomatic intervention is undertaken.”
The Chinese financial sector is becoming increasingly unstable, and it is possible that the government is pursuing scapegoats, Stirling speculates. “It has become all too common for executives to simply disappear in China, China Renaissance Holdings CEO Fan Bao, for instance, has been missing since February. So, the obvious concern is that a travel ban could be a prelude to a disappearance in the case of Mr. Wang. This is particularly worrying given the fact that Bao was vanished apparently in connection to an investigation into his associate Cong Lin, and Mr. Wang worked with Lin in the past. It is believed that he was assisting authorities with the investigation, but imposing a travel ban on him suggests that Mr. Wang Zhonghe’s cooperation may not be voluntary.”
Stirling emphasises that companies and business people from Western and democratic countries must be alert to the risks they face in places like China and other authoritarian nations. “Before any investor or company chooses to set up shop in countries infamous for human rights violations and the absence of due process, they need to take precautions for their staff and prepare diplomatic support channels and other means of ensuring the safety of their workers and executives. They need to be cognizant of the fact that their operations and their people are not granted any substantial legal protections in these countries, and that they can be unfairly targeted, wrongly accused, detained without trial, or literally vanished. These are not normal business considerations in other parts of the world; but when you are doing business in authoritarian countries, calculating risks has to include not only dollars and cents, but life and liberty.”
Radha Stirling CEO Due Process International
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