SHANGHAI – Authorities in southern China have detained an American pilot working for FedEx in the latest series of difficulties for American travelers and companies in China.
The pilot was waiting to catch a commercial flight from Guangzhou, where FedEx has a huge center. In a statement, FedEx said authorities had found an item in its luggage, though it did not specify what the object was.
The pilot was released on bail, FedEx said. "We are working with the relevant authorities to gain a better understanding of the facts," the statement said, declining to comment further.
The Air Line International Pilot Association, the union representing most American pilots, declined to discuss the case, as did Mr. Hon's lawyer. Guangzhou Municipal Foreign Office declined comment and referred questions to police who did not answer phone calls.
FedEx is one of a number of companies that were caught between Washington and Beijing as the trade war intensified. But it is unclear whether the pilot's detention is related to the company's problems in China.
As trade friction and other disputes intensify between the United States and China, and as China itself becomes increasingly authoritarian, more Americans find themselves in China and cannot leave.
In January, the State Department issued a travel advisory to China, warning Americans, especially those with dual Chinese-American citizenship, that they might not be allowed to leave China if they went there.
An increasing number of foreign companies, especially US companies but also Canadian and European companies, responded by checking, but not prohibiting, travel to China by executives and employees.  But the quick release of the pilot, though not allowing him to leave the country, could mean that China does not want to make it a bilateral issue, said James Zimmerman, a partner at the Perkins Coy's Beijing office, a global law firm representative. office.
"The fact that he was released is a critically important message and a positive sign – Beijing may have ordered his release to minimize the significance of this. This is an indication that Beijing does not want this case to be much distraction. "Mr Zimmerman stated.
Mr. Zimmerman said China has no guarantee system, as is commonly understood in the West. China relies more on strict travel restrictions on people who are released from detention but remain under investigation.
The arrest comes as the US and China try to reach at least partial peace in their 15-month trade war. Chinese officials are eager to divert additional tariffs that President Trump has planned to impose on October 15 and December 15, but are also willing to agree to the sweeping changes in Chinese policy sought by the Trump administration.
It was not clear on Friday if the Chinese authorities deliberately targeted the pilot because he worked for FedEx. The detention has come as Chinese airports in recent months have apparently tightened security measures. Authorities paid special attention to commuters to or from Hong Kong, China's semi-autonomous territory, where major and increasingly violent protests take place every weekend this summer.
China has strict laws not only against the possession of weapons but also against the possession of any type of ammunition.
FedEx has had a number of difficulties in China in recent months. China accuses FedEx of delaying shipments last May by Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant accused by US intelligence officials of dealing with Chinese intelligence – charges that Huawei denies.
FedEx is also working with Chinese authorities to investigate how one of its US customers was allowed to send a gun to a sports goods store in southeast China.
Chinese nationalists have called in recent weeks for FedEx to be included in the list of "unreliable entities" that the country's Ministry of Commerce is drawing up. The compilation began in response to the US Department of Commerce's decision to begin importing Huawei into a "list of legal entities" of foreign companies to which goods can only be exported from the United States with special licenses.
Cathay Pacific, a large Hong Kong-based airline, was separately subject to strict scrutiny by the Chinese government after some of its officials expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong's democracy. China has threatened to deny the airline access to its airspace unless Cathay detained its employees.
Cathay Pacific and FedEx are two of the largest airlines operating Chinese exports to the United States. Much of China's electronics exports, especially higher-value items such as iPhones, travel by air.
In addition to scrutinizing travelers to and from Hong Kong very carefully, the Chinese government also began screening foreigners who visit or live in the country for any possession or recent drug use, sometimes even weeks or months before the foreigners arrive in China. This has also led to a number of detentions.
Travel experts now strongly advise anyone who goes to China to carry prescription drugs in their original containers and not to carry prescription drugs that may be illegal in China, such as cannabis by prescription. ] FedEx is a well-known company in China as well as in the USA. Coincidentally, HBO showed in Tom Thursday's Tom Hanks' movie Reject, the fictional story of a FedEx manager who has been floating on an island in the Pacific for years.