China's Unlikely Weapon: Tourists

Jul 9, 2018 | 09:00 GMT

Chinese tourists take photographs at Mount Fuji in Japan.

Chinese tourists take photographs at Mount Fuji in Japan.

(FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Decades of explosive economic growth has handed China numerous tools it can use to exert its influence abroad. Massive defense outlays, foreign direct investment and the sprawling Belt and Road Initiative are the most visible expressions of China's economic might. But amid these earthshaking projects, the Chinese consumer has slowly gained clout. And as the mounting U.S.-China trade tensions have shown, China can and will regulate access to its growing market. Beijing has already brandished the carrot and the stick of access to Chinese consumers for agricultural, luxury and manufactured goods. But one overlooked tactic is its control over how many of its citizens it allows to go abroad and where they can visit. Tourism is an unlikely tool of statecraft, but the massive growth in the number of outbound Chinese travelers means their combined economic weight can have sharp consequences that Beijing will continue to use....