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China Announces New Restrictions on Visa Applications


China has announced new restrictions on visa applications for residents of Hong Kong, just a few months before scores of foreigners arrive to attend the Beijing Olympics. China has long been sensitive about who enters its territory. As Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong, the visa restrictions are the latest in a series of extra precautions Chinese authorities are taking in the run-up to the Games.

Foreign nationals living in Hong Kong no longer have the luxury of applying for a multiple entry visa. They also have to now include their flight information and hotel reservations, unless they are traveling in border cities such as Shenzhen.

David Zweig is the director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He says the visa restrictions are not surprising, and were most likely implemented to help alleviate concerns that protests will spoil the games.

"China will make it as difficult as it can for people that are not going to the games to enjoy the games, but who are instead going to the games to use it as a vehicle for protest, they will try and make it as difficult as possible for those people to get into China," he explained.

China's selection as host of the Olympic Games was controversial from the beginning, mainly because rights activists said that Beijing's long list of human rights concerns should prevent it from being an eligible host.

But recent riots in Tibet have sparked demonstrations worldwide, and increased fears among Chinese authorities that more protests will take place during the games.

Zweig says Chinese authorities believe extra precautions such as the visa restrictions are more than justified.

"And if that effort, discomfort makes it difficult for the foreign community then I think China is willing to pay that price," he added.

Restrictions are also in place for those inside the country, particularly in Xinjiang province where a minority Muslim ethnic group has long called for their own homeland. Chinese authorities consider Uighur activists to be terrorists, while rights groups say the Chinese government has used fear of Islamic extremism to clamp down on the group.

Zweig says Beijing is somewhat justified in thinking that the Olympic Games will be a target and an opportunity for people, both domestically and internationally, that have strong views against China.

"I don't think any other country has been as worried about protests and probably isn't as sensitive to protests as China," he noted. "I think one of the big differences is that China is the first developing country to have the Olympics."

Many activists, however, say China's attempts to prevent demonstrations and protests against it merely heighten concerns that authorities are trying to shield the international community from human rights issues.

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