The Public Security Ministry's new policy requiring staff to provide more friendly service to passport applicants and to issue the documents within 15 days are welcome signs that freedom to travel overseas is beginning to be treated more seriously as a citizen's right in China. There is no denying that the authorities are still keeping their reins on the people, and those who work in 'sensitive sectors' such as government departments or banks still need to obtain prior approval from their units before they can be issued passports. But the overall trend is towards allowing ordinary Chinese to travel abroad as they please. During the first half of this year, almost 5.5 million Chinese visited 190 countries, up 10 per cent on the same period last year. The figure is expected to grow exponentially as more Chinese become more well-off. The ministry's new directive seemed to suggest that its passport offices had been swamped by applicants, many of whom were dissatisfied with the services provided. That was why the ministry had to issue a 'performance pledge' to quell public disquiet. In a place where too many public servants still see themselves as officials lording over the people, the measure represents a small but significant change of attitude. Along with the relaxation of overseas travel restrictions, China has also been making moves to dismantle the decades old hukou, or household registration, system. Although there are still rules barring residence in big cities, rural dwellers will be able to live in small towns and cities. Tying people down is the greatest inhibitor of growth. The moves towards facilitating internal migration and overseas travel are an inevitable development as China further develops its market economy and joins the World Trade Organisation.