The University of California (UC) has warned students not to use messaging apps and social media – including WhatsApp and WeChat – when visiting China, because Chinese law enforcement agencies could use their communications against them.

CNN reports that Gary Leonard, an executive director with UC’s Risk Services department, sent an email to students and staff that included the following:

While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat and like messaging apps are legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a US citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges.

Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure. We recommend not using these messaging apps in China at this time.

The warning comes amidst rising tensions between the US and China following the arrest in Canada in early December 2018 of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the US.

Since that time, several Canadian and US citizens have been detained in China, some say on politically motivated charges.


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