Monday, April 16, 2007

Chinese Revenge on New US Trade Barriers?

Last summer was the first time I visited Shenzhen. I came here to visit my cousin, Annie, and her family. On the last few days of my week-long stay, Annie and I decided to go on a excursion through Hong Kong. We woke up early morning Friday and headed over through the Luo Hu customs. We got into HK without any problems and had an awesome day. This included a ferry ride across Victoria harbor, a tram ride onto the peak, drinks at Lan Kwai Fong and dim sum. All in all, it was an awesome, first visit of Hong Kong.

One thing I managed to (ignorantly) overlook was the Visa issue. I had always gotten double or multiple entry tourist visas when I came to China. However, for some reason, this time I had a single entry. In my ignorance, I didn't think twice about crossing the border because “hey, Hong Kong is now apart of China. Why would I need a visa to go from China to China?” Well, this ended up haunting me. When we arrived at the Luo Hu border, I was unable to get back into China. I ended up stuck in no-man’s land (kinda like Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal. With my US Passport, I could go back to Hong Kong but not into China. What made it even worse was that Annie had already crossed onto the China side, and couldn't come back to the HK side because she didn't have another HK entry with her Chinese identification.

Realizing my predicament, I went back to the HK side and located the border visa center. I was told my a lot of Chinese and HK customs officials that Americans were able to obtain temporary visas there. That was OK with me because I had a flight to Shanghai a day later, and a return flight to NYC 3 days after that. When I got to the visa company, however, I was told I couldn't obtain the visa I so desperately needed. They had just changed the rules a few months back for Americans: Only select travel agencies in Hong Kong could apply for the Chinese visa for Americans. They also took more than half a day to obtain (the quickest way). And since it was a Friday night, I would have to wait until Monday until I could get mine.

Fortunately, I was able to contact friends and family in HK to help me find a hotel for the weekend. However, I wasn't able to avoid paying penalties on my flights back to the US or the hassle to my extended family. It was definitely the longest weekend ever.

Finally on Monday, we were able to get my visa. While waiting for it at the China Travel Service, we asked the branch manager (who we knew) about the current laws for Chinese visas for Americans. The manager explained the laws had only changed in the past couple of years. Americans were treated like citizens of every other country for the longest time. They could obtain visas quickly and freely. They only changed after Americans changed their laws. It seems that the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent acts of legislation (ie. Patriot Acts), including immigration ones made it incredibly hard for Chinese citizens to travel to the US. All visas were difficult to obtain, with drawn out processes and paperwork.

This was China’s way of responding. “We’re going to make it more difficult for your citizens to do what they want in our country as well.”

I recently applied for a 1 year business visa through my company. I only got a 6-month visa because the regulation for this only changed a few weeks ago. I guess China’s just trying to fuck with US citizens as much as possible…as retribution, or even revenge for American acts.

Last week, I read a NY Times entitled U.S. Toughens its Position on China Trade, regarding the recent US action of taking China to court in the WTO. It seems that the US Congress is not happy with the growing trade deficit with China. This means democrats in Congress are going to take action. However, no one will know what’s going to happen next…and the Chinese response:

What China will do next is an open question in the administration. The answer may not be clear until Mr. Paulson’s economic meeting with the Chinese in May.

But many Chinese experts warn that the latest steps by the administration will not help persuade China to change its reliance on a low-valued currency and other restrictions on imports and investment. The power and influence of Communist Party leaders tied to the export sector is too great, they say.

“If the U.S. takes more actions against China, it will harm Paulson’s dialogue with China and future trade meetings,” said Chen Jianan, a professor of economics at Fudan University in Shanghai. But he said the most recent actions could compel both sides to negotiate.

In my understanding of China, there is great possibility that China will retaliate in some stealth way just to screw with the Americans. I would argue that there will not be incredibly large action since there’s too much at risk, but there will be small ones. Just look at what China did to Wal-Mart and unions. Wal-Mart agreed to establish unions in China (that it doesn't have anywhere in the world) since the traditional Chinese union is powerless in collective bargaining. Then after this is established, China changes the law regarding the power of unions, totally screwing over Wal-Mart.

That’s the Chinese way.

Ultimately, we’ll see what happens. The NY Times already has a prediction:

All sides agree that the latest American actions portend a period of rough weather in United States-Chinese relations.

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