zhen dou

July 19th, 2008

Sometimes you’ve really got to wonder. Just got a travel advisory emailed to me from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Safetravel website. That’s the website that carries travel advisories and where you register your details oops, no, you register here at Kiwis Overseas should you be travelling outside New Zealand (if you’re a New Zealander, that is), and if you are travelling overseas, you really should register. You’d be surprised at just how little Foreign Affairs (and by extension, embassy and consulate staff) can do to help you, but even so, they can be a very useful contact point, and that in itself is all you need. Just think, those Kiwis in Sichuan on May 12 who were registered could be contacted and accounted for by the embassy or nearest consulat much more easily than those who were not registered. At the very least, this meant that even if their families could not contact them directly, they could get information through Foreign Affairs. Those who didn’t register, well…..

Anyway, so this travel advisory, yeah, you really got to wonder sometimes. It starts off warning about events in the southwest in March and the continued potential for trouble out there. And it warns that New Zealanders should stay away from such trouble should it occur, stay indoors out of harm’s way, and follow all instructions. It also warns: “Permission from the Chinese authorities is required for travel to Tibet.” Right. Nothing new there, then. File this one in the “No Shit Sherlock” bin while wondering why they even bothered including this piece of non-information.

Then it warns about the earthquake in Sichuan in May 12. I didn’t get any such travel advisory back in mid-May when it may have been pertinent. Travellers don’t always have easy access to the latest news, but they do often check email, but now, three months after the quake, I think it’s safe to assume that anybody with China on their mind is aware that the quake happened and did a lot of damage and that it’s probably best to save northern Sichuan and southern Gansu for next time. Surely travel advisories for the quake zone should’ve been sent out in May?

Then it gets to the Olympics (finally, something relevant):

Beijing Olympic Games 8-24 August and Paralympic Games 6-17 September
The Chinese authorities have put in place extensive measures to ensure the safety and security of visitors attending the Games. Visitors should at all times comply with the directions of the Chinese authorities. See our Olympic Games Information Sheet for more information: www.safetravel.govt.nz/topics/2008%20Olympics.shtml

Travellers should be aware that Chinese laws are not the same as New Zealand laws. Chinese detention facilities are not like those in New Zealand and if arrested you could be jailed or deported.

There are strictly enforced laws prohibiting demonstrations without prior approval and travellers should avoid demonstrations of any kind, especially those related to hum@n rites, anit-g0vernm3nt and religion [spelling altered by me].

Information on what New Zealand consular officers can and cannot do is available on our Arrest and Detention information page: www.safetravel.govt.nz/thingsgowrong/arrestdetention.shtml

Yeah, they need to learn to put proper links in their emails. Here’s that Olympics page, and here’s what Foreign Affairs can’t do for you if you are arrested or detained.

Well, that Olympics page is very basic, doesn’t have much detail, and doesn’t say terribly much about the Olympics themselves. It’s more of a general travel advisory. Very general. Having said that, the information is good, clear and concise. If you’ve never been to China before, I recommend you read it. And I particularly like the phrasing of this section:

Alcohol and Drugs

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death penalty. Public displays of drunkenness are not appropriate in China. Chinese authorities do not take kindly to injudicious acts by drunken individuals.

Nicely put.

That arrested or detained page is similar- it provides a good, clear rundown of what you can do and what embassy or consulate staff can and can not do for you should you be arrested or detained in any foreign country. It starts with a reminder that should not be necessary, but unfortunately is:

If you are travelling or living in a foreign country you must comply with its laws and regulations. The New Zealand Government and its officials cannot intervene in the justice system and law courts of other countries. Being a New Zealand citizen does not lead to any special treatment.

Basic laws may differ from New Zealand. Penalties may be much harsher in some countries than for similar offences committed in New Zealand, and prison conditions may be much worse. New Zealand does not have any prisoner exchange agreements and cannot accept the transfer of New Zealanders from overseas prisons.

Americans have gotten the stereotype of thinking their passport puts them above the law and gets them out of jail free, but in my experience some of the worst travellers are my fellow Kiwis (and although I have met one or two Americans who come close to fitting that stereotype, the overwhelming majority, in my experience, are pretty good travellers well aware of their place in the grand scheme of things). So please, everybody, remember this: You are subject to the laws of whichever country you are in. It’s that simple.

Anyways, all of this advice is common sense. Trouble is, common sense is much less common than its name might suggest. So a quick summary: Keep a safe distance from anything that looks like a demonstration or protest. The earthquake area is not a good place to visit right now. So long as you are in China, you are subject to Chinese law, so if you get caught doing something you shouldn’t, you’d better be prepared to face the consequences.

Comments are closed.