From online groups to anti-China outlets: how rumors were created about ‘China suspending or cutting up people’s passports’
Published: May 13, 2022 09:59 PM
Chinese passport Photo:VCG

Chinese passport Photo:VCG

 China's National Immigration Administration (NIA) and the General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspections in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou on Friday debunked rumors surrounding passenger passports or green cards being confiscated or clipped to prevent people from leaving the country. 

Authorities said that such disinformation aims to undermine China's COVID-19 prevention measures and regulations. But how were the rumors being created and spread? The Global Times has dug up an assembly line for anti-China rumors, from "hate China" communities on overseas social networks to US-supported anti-China media and outlets in Taiwan.   

The origin 
A Chinese net user dubbed "Wraitheon" said through a Weibo post that the contents under the hashtag "China tightens curbs on unnecessary overseas travel" were filled with rumors, with one claiming "China cut up a citizen's passport" actually fabricated by a Reddit-user, whose original post displaying a cancelled passport had already been labeled as "photo piracy" by the platform.  

The Global Times found that the rumor was initially created in a Reddit social group called CLTV by a user dubbed "LETSGOBRANDON8888" in early May. The group is a large "China hate" organization, whose members often show hostility toward Chinese society, and make up extreme rumors to distort the Chinese government's policies, creating anxiety throughout the Chinese public.  

The group is also engaged in translating and dispersing extreme remarks on China's social networks abroad, designed to vilify Chinese society. 

The user claims to be a Canadian college student, who met "a border inspector with a bad temper," and says that his passport was cut up by the official. 

The user captioned the post with the eye-catching line "My life is over" and a picture of a "cancelled" passport. He also commented in a thread that "Now the planes are gone and I'm still at the airport, what do I do?" in a clear attempt to win sympathy, 

The disinformation on "cutting up passports" is a classic example of how the group distorts the Chinese government's border policy, and attempts to create anxiety among students studying abroad while stirring up opposition and hostility to China's counter-epidemic policies, especially when China tightened its exit and entry policy on the back of recent flare-ups.  

Anti-China hype
The rumor began circulating online around May 10. The US-dominated anti-China propaganda mouthpiece "Radio Free Asia (RFA)" cited the above case to discredit China's latest border policies that "continue to implement strict exit and entry policies, and continue to advocate that people from the Chinese mainland should not leave the country unless it is necessary or urgent." The rumor was hyped to serve the argument that China is "closed to the outside world" and does not allow its people "access to foreign ideas."  

RFA's latest example of anti-China propaganda was later picked up by secessionist-controlled media from Taiwan, before it seeped into mainland social networks causing concern and anxiety. 

Some WeChat accounts have actively cooperated with external forces to hype up rumors, not only posting screenshots, but also claiming that the rumors were "true." Some quickly took advantage of the period when China's National Immigration Administration (NIA) emphasized the need to "strictly enforce the entry-exit policy" on Thursday.  

Bankruptcy of rumors
Interestingly, the "clipped passport" post was labeled as disinformation within anti-China circles on Reddit even before the NIA debunked the rumor. The picture of the passport being "cancelled" was in turn copied from another "China-hate" post, whose owner "showed off" their renunciation of Chinese citizenship.

The passport-cutting rumor spawned other variations online. In its anti-China propaganda piece on May 10, RFA also mentioned two other "editions" of the ridiculous rumor: one was that Chinese border inspectors were "cutting up overseas Chinese green cards," and the other was that returnees were "cutting up their own passports."  

On Friday, the General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection in Beijing also released a statement to debunk the disinformation, saying that people who hold valid passports and abide by related rules can enter China after being checked by an inspection station. 

The statement also noted that the internet is not outside the bounds of the law. People who invent or spread disinformation to disturb social order are violating the law and will be held accountable. 

People who need to enter or exit the country should not believe rumors, and can access information from the National Immigration Administration website or hotline, the statement read. 

Aside from Beijing, on Friday, the inspection stations in Shanghai and Guangzhou also released statements to refute similar rumors. The Guangzhou station noted that the online rumors surrounding passengers' green cards being cut up had sparked concerns and that disinformation had impacted the regular work of border control management. Those who spread disinformation may be subject to law enforcement action by border control authorities.