The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) announced Thursday, February 9, that all foreign visitors aged 14-70 will be subject to the requirement. The only only exemptions will be those with diplomatic passports and those holding passports from countries with reciprocal trade agreements with China (which includes the United States, Pakistan, and Chile). Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan will also be exempted.
"To collect the biometric information is an important measure to enhance border control that has been adopted by several countries," according to an MPS statement. The new policy mimics a 2004 measure from the US Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Japanese customs authority in 2007.
The United Kingdom, France, Australia, Taiwan and Cambodia have similar requirements as well.
The system will be gradually implemented, starting from the city of Shenzhen and gradually expanding outward. Shenzhen, a major financial center and one of China's Special Economic Zones where free market capitalism is given more elbow room, alone sees millions of foreign visitors a year.
Chinese authorities reported 76 million foreign entries and exits in 2016, the majority from China's primary trade partner the US, and Beijing's neighbors Japan, South Korea, and Russia.
Although the terse report from the MPS did not outline a specific reason for the new measure, similar systems have been implemented in other nations with the stated purpose of mitigating instances of foreign terrorism.
China has its own issues with terrorism, primarily from the Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in the Northwest province of Xinjiang, who, like the indigenous population of Tibet, seek independence from Beijing. Insurgents detonated a bomb that killed one person in late December 2016, and in response Chinese authorities shot four purported assailants dead. Xinjiang violence peaked in 2014, with over 300 fatalities in 37 incidents.
Also in December 2016, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report to Congress claiming that China's friendship with Pakistan was threatening to spread Islamic radicalization to Northwestern China. Xinjiang borders Kashmir, which is partially occupied by Pakistan.