US willing to issue 5-year visas to Chinese: Locke
The United States is willing to start issuing five-year visas to Chinese nationals, but a reciprocal arrangement is a 'prerequisite', Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China, said yesterday.
'Travel and exchanges between our two countries foster a better understanding of our cultures and our people,' he told the Committee of 100's Fourth Greater China Conference in Hong Kong. 'We'd like to issue five-year visas for Chinese visitors to the US whether for business, travel or study.'
Locke said the number of US visas issued to Chinese nationals has almost doubled in the past few years. The number of visa applications from China has also 'virtually doubled' in the past five years, with a 40 per cent surge last year, he said.
The US processed more than one million US visas for Chinese applicants in the past fiscal year, which ended on September 30.
Locke said a top priority of his was to reduce processing and waiting times, and increasing the number of visitors to the US.
He pledged to make visa applications more efficient by adding staff members to meet the demand.
More Chinese visitors would help create jobs in the US and help lift its sluggish economy, Locke said.
'If you turn them away, they'll go to France, they'll go to Canada,' he said.
'It's in our economic self-interest to ensure we get as many people from China travelling to the US as possible.'
Figures from the US Department of Commerce show that more than 801,000 mainlanders visited the US last year, contributing more than US$5 billion to the US economy. The number of Chinese students in the US has risen to nearly 158,000, or about 22 per cent of America's total foreign student population, according to a joint report by the Institute of International Education and the US Department of State.
Acting undersecretary of state Ann Stock said last month that foreign students injected US$21.3 billion into the US economy last year.
Separately, Locke said Washington was concerned about Beijing's shift towards state intervention in the economy and urged Beijing to provide a level playing field for foreign investors. He said opening up China's financial services sector, expanding domestic consumption and fostering innovation would 'unleash huge growth potential' for Chinese and foreign firms.
'Increasingly, trade frictions with China could be traced to its pursuit of policy that relies on trade-distorting government action to promote or protect China's state-owned enterprises and domestic industries,' said Locke.
'China seems to be embracing state capitalism more strongly each year rather than continuing to pursue economic reform goals. The United States urges the Chinese government to reverse the trend.'