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US and China reveal 10-year visas

The US and China are to start granting visas to each other's citizens valid for up to a decade.

However, thorny issues such as human rights and trade lurk just under the surface of relations between the two nations, reflecting the tough road ahead as US president Barack Obama began a week-long trip to the region.

Addressing Asian business leaders at a high-level summit, Mr Obama sought to dispel the notion that America's interest in Asia should be a cause for concern for China's leaders.

Beijing has viewed his engagement with trepidation, suspecting the US wants to limit China's rise, but Mr Obama insisted that "one country's prosperity doesn't have to come at the expense of the other".

"We want China to do well," he said. "We compete for business, but we also seek to cooperate on a broad range of challenges and shared opportunities."

The visa announcement came just after Mr Obama's arrival in Beijing, a down-payment on closer ties that allowed the president to portray the US and China as partnering in good faith.

He vowed that if the US and China can work together, the entire world stands to benefit.

"America's a Pacific power, and we are leading to promote shared security and shared economic growth in this century just as we did in the last," Mr Obama said.

Elsewhere, there were abundant reminders on the president's first day in China of the stark differences that have left the world's two largest economies eyeing each other warily from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean.

At the US Embassy, Mr Obama hosted heads of state from the 11 other countries - excluding China - that are pursuing a long-delayed trade pact.

Key obstacles to completing the deal remain, including Japan's objection to opening its markets to foreign competition, and US officials said after the meeting that a final agreement was still a way off.

"We're going to keep on working to get it done," Mr Obama said, calling the pact "the model for trade in the 21st century".

White House officials have been more optimistic about the deal since last week's US elections.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been a cornerstone of Mr Obama's much-touted effort to expand US influence in Asia, but yet another irritant in his relations with China, which is not a party to the talks and has responded by pushing its own regional trade deal.

In his remarks to Asian CEOs, Mr Obama rattled off a litany of issues where the US views China as not playing by the rules, including cyber-theft, currency manipulation, human rights and environmental standards.

White House aides have said he plans to bring up such concerns during his meetings with President Xi Jinping, but the president appeared to be carefully calibrating his words to avoid letting those disputes interfere with the broader relationship.

Sitting down earlier with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, Mr Obama was guarded in his comments about pro-democracy protests that have seized Hong Kong, urging China's government to prevent violence there while calling the situation "historically complicated".

"We're not going to stop speaking out on behalf of the things that we care about," he said, adding that those interests must be balanced with America's significant business interests with China.

Under the visa agreement, business and short-term tourist visas will be valid for 10 years, while student and cultural exchange visas will last for five. Currently, such visas expire after one year.

Yet the actual benefits may be modest. The visa arrangement does not increase how long an American can remain in China or vice-versa, but rather how long the visa can be used to enter the country.

The same restrictions remain on who is eligible for a US visa, including an in-person interview requirement that is arduous for those who do not live near a US consulate.

The White House said it hoped the deal would lure more Chinese travellers and with them billions of dollars into the US economy.

US officials said it could drive up demand that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the US, without sacrificing national security.

About 100 million Chinese people travelled last year, but less than 2% of those came to the US.


From Belfast Telegraph