A university in the USA has issued a warning to students visiting China, advising them of potential dangers attached to the use of smartphone apps such as WeChat.

The University of California, Davis informed students that they should exercise caution when using Chinese-developed smartphone apps like WeChat and avoid making “unfavourable political statements or postings” on the app during visits to China.

Gary Leonard, UC Davis’ Director of Liability and Property Programs, sent an e-mail this Monday to students, including those enrolled in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, recommending that those heading for China should ditch WeChat and stay apolitical for their own sake, according to the South China Morning Post which reviewed a screenshot of the e-mail.

In the email, Leonard highlighted the recent espionage charge against a US citizen in Russia, in which the accused’s use of messaging apps was cited as evidence.

“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 at this time,” read the e-mail.

It is not clear whether the UC Davis issued the appeal for extra caution on its own initiative, or if the move was prompted by the US State Department’s recent warning over Beijing’s “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” and exit bans targeting US citizens.

There have also been concerns regarding the surge in the number of Chinese students across all campuses of the University of California. Part of this concern is over their use of apps and software like WeChat that could pose a threat to the university’s intellectual property and sensitive research projects commissioned by the federal government.

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In November 2017, some Chinese students at the university reportedly voluntarily disbanded a self-styled Chinese Communist Party branch after they were told they could fall foul of local laws in California.

Meanwhile, China’s own elite researchers and scientists working in sensitive and frontier hi-tech sectors, like those under Beijing’s Made in China 2025 scheme, have also been told to avoid travelling to the US, after Washington revoked long-term visas for Chinese scientists and even detained some of them on espionage charges.

Canada’s arrest of Chinese tech giant Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in December, which was made at Washington’s request, has also been cited in the warnings to those traveling to the US.

Read more: Beijing papers suggest US cities ‘more dangerous than Xinjiang’