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UPDATED: November 18, 2014
New Visa Deal Boosts U.S.-Sino Exchanges
By Jonathan Poston

With President Obama's announcement of new extended visa policy in China, an immediate flurry of headlines surfaced across the web hailing the pact as good news.

Frank Li, president of China International Travel Service in Pasadena, said on a Southern California-based public media network, http://www.scpr.org, that: "It caught many people by surprise," adding that "it changed so fast."

During a visit to China to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, and to discuss important issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Obama announced that the U.S. and China have agreed to adapt the visa policy so that it can benefit students and tourists in both countries. The new visa rule extends student visas to five years, and visitor visas to 10 years.

The U.S. Department of State outlined the details of this historic U.S.-China visa deal on its website, making it clear that the arrangement is a joint decision with benefits extending in both directions.

With the new opportunities that visa extensions hold, citizens from both countries are encouraged to deepen cultural and economic exchanges, which should strengthen a long standing relationship between the two super powers. This accord comes at a time when U.S.-China relations have been strained over opposing views on a wide range of issues. However, such differences did not undermine this groundbreaking agreement that is expected to boost trade, tourism, and academic exchange.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzer said in a statement that the new rules "will strengthen our ever-broadening economic and people-to-people ties," according to the Forbes Magazine website.

Edmund Downie, a 23-year-old Yale University graduate, is the first American to obtain a new 10-year tourist visa for travel to China issued by the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. on November 12. "It's a great feeling. It's really exciting to have the opportunity to make that travel simpler," he told China Daily. Downie is scheduled to depart this week for Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province for some sightseeing.

On the same day in Beijing, the U.S. embassy held a grand ceremony for the first 10-year U.S. visas issued to Chinese citizens, with Secretary of State John Kerry attending. "You are literally helping to write the next great chapter of the history between the United States and China," Kerry told the new visa holders during the ceremony.

The new visa deal isn't only empowering tourism. Simon Chan, a partner at the international law firm, Dorsey and Whitney's Hong Kong office, told China Daily that the new U.S. visa procedure will likely drive up Chinese private-equity investments in the U.S. on the personal and institutional level.

Similar opinions are also popping up on social media sites, like Twitter. Mark Kirk, U.S. Senator for Illinois, tweeted at his account on November 10 that "I called for visa agreement w/ China announced today that will boost trade & create jobs for #IL."

The frenzy is certainly justified as Obama has indicated that the new visa deal could mean more than 7 million Chinese nationals visiting the U.S., adding around $85 billion to its economy and make nearly half a million jobs possible. According to the White House, 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the U.S. in 2013, generating $21.1 billion to the U.S. economy.

How those numbers will really stack up when business development, academic partnerships, and Sino-U.S. relations begin to really gain momentum is anyone's guess, but the first step in establishing a more meaningful and productive relationship has been made. A golden bridge, forged in the glow of goodwill between two great leaders, is connecting the U.S. and China like never before.

It is now up to the people to travel across, making friends all along the way.

The author is a contributing writer to Beijing Review

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