America Should Act To Remove Stumbling Blocks from China-US Cultural Exchange

Chinese-U.S. cultural exchanges have recently been very active. Many Americans, especially youth, have flocked to China to experience the charm of its 5,000 years of culture. Twenty-four students from Washington state’s Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School climbed the Great Wall, toured the Forbidden City, and observed the “two-time Olympic city” allure of “Bird’s Nest” and Shougang Park. A travel group of teachers and students from Iowa’s Muscatine High School shouted, “I love China!” in Chinese at the end of their trip.

Chairman Xi Jinping invited 50,000 American youth to China for academic exchanges in five years when he spoke in San Francisco, further exciting American desire to learn about the Middle Kingdom while welcoming visits from more young Americans. However, In contrast to the American public that yearns to visit China and understand its culture, the United States government maintains warnings about traveling in China, asserting tourists risk wrongful detention even today. These baseless warnings have deterred many American citizens from visiting. They also run contrary to the important consensus that the two heads of state reached during their meeting in San Francisco, ultimately sending the wrong signal and severely hindering Chinese-U.S. cultural exchange. Even U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell admits that the United States’ China travel warnings have restricted exchange between the people of China and the United States to a certain degree.

I don’t know where the so-called risk of wrongful detention comes from. China is a country of law and order that welcomes citizens from all over the world for travel and business, that protects their legal rights under law and that provides them with convenient services. Since March 14, China has expanded the scope of its visa exemptions for European nations by implementing a visa-exempt policy for regular passport holders from six countries, including Switzerland and Ireland. The People’s Bank of China has improved the efficiency of tying foreign bank cards to mobile payments, simplified identity verification, and increased the limit of single transactions for mobile payments by foreigners in China. It has also released a “Guide to Payment Services in China,” which has greatly increased the convenience of using mobile payments for internationals visiting China.

As the resumption of international airlines has accelerated and the visa-exempt “friend circle” continues to expand, the number of foreign tourists visiting China for its many novel and rich experiences has significantly increased. In 2023, China’s immigration administration collectively recorded 35.4 million foreigners who entered and exited China and whose safety and legal rights were fully protected. In the first two months of this year, a total of 2.9 million foreigners entered and exited China, a monthly increase of 200.3%. During the Spring Festival, tourists from France, Italy and other countries newly included in the visa-exempt program rose markedly, with the total number of travel entry orders on some travel platforms doubling that of 2019. Benefiting from China’s latest visa-free policy, the cruise ship Artania carrying nearly 1,000 European tourists docked in China in March for the first time since the pandemic. Several tourists have commended China’s mobile payment system as “super convenient” and China’s high-speed rail as “both fast and punctual,” while wistfully remarking how warm and friendly Chinese people are and hoping they will have the chance to visit again.

While China has always welcomed citizens from round the world in a warm, equal and friendly manner, America has used all kinds of excuses to bar Chinese citizens from entering their borders. Partial statistics show that at least 16 Chinese students and scholars holding legal and valid documents have faced unwarranted harassment, interrogation and deportation by the United States, including 11 at Washington’s Dulles Airport, alone since the end of last November. According to these exchange students, U.S. law enforcement repeatedly interrogated them about personal and family matters, detained and investigated their luggage and portable electronic devices, and ultimately canceled their visas, barred entry and forced them to leave without substantial evidence. Many Chinese students and their parents now regard studying abroad in the U.S. with trepidation.

Since establishing diplomatic relations 45 years ago, cultural exchange has consistently been a relentless force navigating China-U.S. relations around numerous obstacles. As Chairman Xi points out, the history of China-U.S. relations is a history of camaraderie between two nations; just as the past relies on people to record it, the future relies on people to create it. The hope and foundation of China-U.S. relations thus lies in the people.

Strengthening cultural and interpersonal exchange is both the prevailing trend and the public’s aspiration — more importantly, the source of vitality for Chinese-U.S. relations. America should view Chinese-U.S. cultural exchange objectively instead of saying one thing and doing another. The United States should act as soon as possible to remove its misleading China travel warnings and barriers from friendly exchange between the two countries.

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