Visa refusal shines spotlight on China's HIV travel ban

Michael Carter
Published: 12 March 2010

A spotlight has fallen on China’s continued entry ban for HIV-positive foreigners after HIV-positive Australian novelist Robert Dessaix was refused entry to the country.

Dessaix had planning to attend the Shanghai International Literary Festival and also had been invited to speak in Beijing and Chengdu.

China's travel ban dates back to the 1980s when the HIV epidemic first emerged in the country. It now has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world.

Dessaix was reported to be “humiliated” and “insulted” by the refusal of the Chinese authorities to grant him entry.

Regulations state that all short-term visitors to the country must state that they are HIV-negative. Those planning stays of six months or longer in China are required to have an HIV test.

A temporary waiver was issued in 2008 to allow people with HIV to attend the Beijing Olympics. It was understood that the country’s health ministry aimed to fully repeal the ban in time for a trade exposition that opens in Shanghai on May 1st this year.

Over 90 Australian literary figures have signed an open letter protesting at the decision of the Chinese authorities to forbid Dessaix to enter the country because of his HIV infection.

Meanwhile, the announcement by the South Korean government that it has lifted its country’s restrictions on entry by HIV-positive foreign nationals has been described as an “empty gesture”. No legislation has been put in place to make the change legally binding.

Indeed, a bill is currently before the country’s national assembly which calls for the mandatory HIV testing of all foreigners hoping to work in the country. The draft legislation has its origins in anti-western feeling in South Korea promoted by the Spectrum group which has sought to portray foreigners as HIV-infected, child abusers and sexual predators. The preamble of the bill states: "Nowadays, the number of foreigners working in Korea is increasing, but a good many have previous convictions for drug and sexual crimes or carry infectious diseases."

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