“Chinese border officials have the right to refuse entry without warning or explanation” – that is now the official warning to travellers hoping to visit the People’s Republic on a visa-free waiver.
One month ago today, the cruise ship Quantum of the Seas sailed from the Chinese port of Tianjin with dozens of empty cabins after many passengers were denied entry at Beijing airport.
They were obliged to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds buying alternative flights either straight home or onward to Japan to await the arrival of the ship.
The Independent has heard numerous other accounts of travellers being turned away arbitrarily at both Beijing and Shanghai.
The basic rule is that passengers must arrive direct from a location outside China (a definition that, for this purpose, includes Hong Kong), stay no more than six days and depart direct to a third country.
On 7 October, Quantum of the Seas departed for Fukuoka in Japan. Anyone who arrived in China from any country other than Japan from 1 October onwards should have qualified for free transit.
But one passenger, who does not want to be named, described graphically what happened after she and her husband queued for two-and-a-half hours.
“It’s finally our turn. We hand over our passports and watch him meticulously turn each page of our passports staring at all our different stamps. Then we hear: ‘No entry, declined.’
“And that was it. Like so many other people we’re standing there shell-shocked and wondering what to do. The family in front of us was a group of eight; five were rejected and three were allowed in. Another family got in, but their two-year-old was declined.”
Some reports suggested that the presence in a passport of a stamp from Turkey or Egypt was the deciding factor, but The Independent is aware of multiple cases where there was no such evidence.
More than 70 of the passengers denied access for the cruise have created a Facebook page named “Quantum of the Seas 7.10.19 Rejects”.
Some of the passengers had booked with a leading cruise agent, Iglu. Even though it was in no way responsible, passengers were offered “a financial goodwill gesture” of £500 per person.
The firm says it ”is continuing to liaise with affected parties and work with authorities to fully investigate the situation”.
The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, was also powerless to prevent the travellers being turned away.
It is now telling future travellers: “Approval of the 144-hour visa-free transit is not guaranteed and guests may be denied entry despite having all correct supporting documents.”
The obvious way to reduce the risk of being turned away is to obtain a full Chinese visa. But the People’s Republic has one of the most expensive and draconian visa application processes in the world.
Applicants must pay over £150 and attend a visa centre in London, Manchester, Edinburgh or Belfast to be photographed and fingerprinted (though under 14s and over 70s are exempted from the biometric requirements).
Meanwhile one of the passengers who contacted The Independent said: “The psychological damage which has been caused by immigration at China will live with me for a long time.
“Even going through immigration when I arrived back England I started shaking.
“This is not a holiday of memories, this is a holiday of nightmares.”
The Independent has requested a response from the Chinese Embassy in London.