Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
April 7, 2023
It is encouraging that Chinese travelers are back to the US, and surely there is a chance of ease tensions between the US and China. But cultural exchanges or interactions are a two-way traffic, where Chinese travelers are back to the US now, how many US travelers are back to China? Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a big imbalance in terms of how many Chinese visitors came to the US vs how many US visitors went to China every year. China is catching up with US fast, US public needs firsthand understanding of what is going on in China.
Specifically, the relation between the US and China is very tense, mutual understanding between the peoples is essential for reduce misunderstanding and avoid direct confrontations.
It is also good news that these Chinese travelers are having a very happy experience in the USA. But unfortunately, not everyone from China is lucky as these few cases, there are also non-stop unpleasant messages. See the following headlines:
- Speaking to reporters on a trip to Taiwan, Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee “We want to do everything possible to deter a very aggressive nation, Communist China, from ever thinking about landing on the shores of this beautiful island, because that would be a serious mistake for everybody.”
- U.S. Speaker meets Taiwan leader and stresses need to speed up arms deliveries.
SIMI VALLEY, California, April 5 (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California on Wednesday, becoming the most senior U.S. figure to meet a Taiwanese leader on U.S. soil in decades and stressed the need to accelerate arms deliveries to Taiwan in the face of rising threats from China
- DOD: Budget preps US for possible war with China
Pentagon leaders tell Congress that the U.S. military must be ready for possible confrontation with China. And are pushing Congress to approve the military’s proposed $842 billion budget, to modernize the force in Asia and around the world. (March 23)
- The US is pushing China to a ‘red line’ and companies that do business in the country need to come up with a ‘plan B,’ Yale economist says.
- Philippines names 4 new camps for US forces amid China fury
The Philippine government has identified four new military camps, including some across the sea from Taiwan, where rotating batches of American forces will be allowed to be stationed indefinitely despite strong objections from China.
By JIM GOMEZ
April 3, 2023, 4:42 AM
Chinese travelers are back, and with them, a chance to ease tensions
Ann Scott Tyson
Thu, April 6, 2023 at 7:51 AM PDT
When a retired IT professional from Chengdu traveled to the United States last week for the first time after years of pandemic-related isolation in China, he worried how U.S. border authorities might scrutinize a Chinese traveler.
To his relief, the American officers greeted him not with suspicion, but with a welcome.
“The border officials were very relaxed … and polite. They told me to enjoy my stay,” he says, pausing to chat while visiting the original Starbucks coffee shop in Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. “I realized that the U.S. border is fine, the authorities are good, and the ordinary people are also totally normal – it’s really great, just like before.”
He asked to withhold his name out of concern over possible repercussions in China.
Beijing lifting its draconian “zero-COVID” regime in December has opened the door for mainland Chinese to venture abroad again for leisure. The beginnings of a surge of Chinese traveling overseas is vital not only for business – prior to the pandemic, Chinese travelers made 155 million international trips and spent about $245 billion in 2019 – but for human connection, experts say.
Geopolitical tensions have mounted between China and advanced economies in the West and Asia during China’s three years of isolation, and perception gaps have grown. The return of Chinese visitors to the United States, Europe, and other countries in Asia has the potential to rekindle more friendly ties and mutual compassion on a person-to-person level, experts say.
“Precisely because of all the challenges we are facing now, travel and people-to-people interactions become even more crucial,” says Xiang Li, professor of tourism and director of the U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism and Hospitality Research at Temple University. “Once people travel to a destination perceived as a hostile country, talk with people, and see the country through their own eyes, perceptions may very well change.”
A world unlocked
China’s years of mass COVID-19 testing, restricted mobility, and constant threat of lockdowns and quarantines generated a collective trauma that has left many Chinese eager for a change of scene, experts say.
“It was a global PTSD moment, in China in particular because the past three years did affect many aspects of life and work,” says Dr. Li.
A Chinese scholar from Beijing describes her feeling of entrapment under “zero-COVID” mandates as similar to “riding on a high speed train that we couldn’t get off, and we didn’t know when it would stop.” She also withheld her name to avoid being identified in China.
Keen to take a break from China, she was able to obtain a visiting scholar position at an American university and left the Chinese capital for Seattle last fall.
Across China, the pandemic spurred the realization among many Chinese – especially the urban, educated, middle class – that international travel was no longer a rare luxury, but instead an indispensable part of their lifestyle.
Emily, a Chinese university student in Beijing who asked to withhold her last name for her protection, describes feeling immobilized last December while the world was moving on. “The outside world was changing very rapidly,” she says. “I was locked in my university, so my life was frozen.”
She left China in January to study in California. It was her first trip to the U.S. “I was just looking for something I wanted, but I didn’t know what that something is,” Emily says, “so I decided to see another country.”
This pent-up demand for travel translated into a flurry of online trip searches immediately after the “zero-COVID” policy ended. Outbound travel bookings surged 640% during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday season starting in January 2023, according to data from China’s Trip.com reservation platform. As of March, outbound air ticket bookings were up 419% compared with the same period in 2022, and some of the top destinations were Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the United States, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
“With borders now open and many restrictions gone, Trip.com Group has seen tremendous pick up for both domestic and outbound travel,” says company spokesperson Chen Si. “Customers have been traveling within China for the past three years, so outbound demand is strong.”
Overcoming fear through connection
Nevertheless, several factors are also constraining the growth in Chinese travelers heading abroad – from economic uncertainty in China, to costly and limited international flights, as well as other logistical shortfalls such as slow visa processing.
Traveler concerns over safety and hostility overseas also loom large, experts say. Strained relations with the West, and the U.S. in particular, exacerbate worries that individual Chinese travelers have about threats from anti-Asian racism, crime, and being viewed as spies, says Dr. Li.
Coming to the U.S. for the first time, “my relatively big worry was safety,” says the Chinese scholar from Beijing. “I knew there were guns, and China’s media reported on it a lot.”
Yet after living in the Seattle area for a few months, she says her concerns have largely disappeared. “It’s very tolerant here and very friendly,” she says. “There’s a lot of trust.”
Seattle welcomed nearly 20,000 visitors from China last year and expects to receive 56,000 this year, compared to about 166,000 in 2019, according to the nonprofit marketing organization Visit Seattle.
As for Emily, she says she’s already met several new friends in California, and is impressed by the breadth of their interests. “Maybe they are a math Ph.D., but they have many passions in their life and can achieve it easily here,” she says.
Indeed, China travel experts believe that although it may take time, the world will gradually see the return of large numbers of mainland Chinese visitors – a force that could boost understanding and compassion.
For the IT professional from Chengdu, the revival of exchanges has the potential to help dispel misperceptions that ballooned during the pandemic.
“We have an information asymmetry, because a lot of Americans who haven’t gone to China are talking about China, and a lot of Chinese who haven’t been to the United States are talking about the United States,” he says.
China’s state-run media and the U.S. media carry largely negative reports about the U.S. and China, respectively, he notes.
“I don’t want China and the United States to have too many conflicts,” he says, “because the people are all very good.”