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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China tightens visa restrictions as Olympics near

July 2, 2008

Instead of the anticipated crush of visitors, tourism is down and
some observers fear the restrictions may present a long-term business obstacle.
By Barbara Demick, barbara.demick@latimes.com Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Times (USA)
July 1, 2008

BEIJING -- It was a farewell dinner, Chinese-style.

A dozen people seated around a large table awkwardly picked up
morsels of food from a revolving platter and sipped from tall bottles
of room-temperature beer. There was joyless quality to the evening as
the dozen or so assembled guests, Britons, Canadians and Americans
who had come to China to teach English, contemplated their imminent
departure on account of visa restrictions.

"I tell them not to say they're being deported," said Diana Wan,
manager of the Shane English School. "This is Chinese government
policy. There is nothing we can do about it until after the Olympics."

As the Summer Olympics draw near, foreigners are discovering that the
welcome mat they had expected is being abruptly rolled up. Thousands
of foreigners have been kicked out before today's deadline as a
result of tough new visa policies. Those forced to leave include
nondiplomatic support staffers at embassies, migrant workers,
freelance writers, artists and students.

Exactly how many foreigners must leave China remains unclear because
the government has released minimal information about the changes in
visa policy. About 110,000 foreigners are registered as Beijing
residents, and about the same number are living and working in the
capital with tourist, student or investor visas. Many of those visas
expired at the end of June and will not be renewed.

At the same time, most Chinese embassies and consulates are no longer
issuing visas with more than 30-day validity and prospective tourists
now have to show hotel reservations, plane tickets and other documentation.

Among the persona non grata are many young Westerners attracted by
low rents, a lively cafe and bar scene and the buzz of living behind
the former Iron Curtain, qualities that made Prague, the capital of
the Czech Republic, an expatriate favorite last decade.

"We wanted to get into the way of life here," said 24-year-old Natan
Doyon, who moved from Britain last year with his girlfriend to teach
English to Chinese children. He says his pupils were so upset when he
told them he couldn't renew his visa that they begged, "Don't go.
We'll help you hide."

He and his girlfriend now plan to try Vietnam.

So many English teachers are being forced to leave that many of the
private language schools, the rage lately for children of the
upwardly mobile, are closing down for the summer. With only three
native English speakers left on its staff, Shane is cutting its
summer camp in half and might curtail its fall program. Shane, which
is owned by a British chain, advertises that it provides native
English speakers.

"If we can't fulfill that promise, we have nothing to sell," Wan
said. "We're losing a lot of money."

The new regulations are a disappointment to those who predicted that
being the Summer Olympics host city would speed Beijing's
transformation into a modern, more cosmopolitan city.

"You have sort of an Olympic lockdown. The Chinese have decided they
can't leave anything to chance so they've shut down a lot of
Beijing," said Jeremy Goldkorn, a media analyst who has lived here
for 12 years.

Instead of the crush anticipated for the Olympics, which begin Aug.
8, tourism is sharply down. The number of overseas visitors to
Beijing in May was down 14.2% from May of last year.

The Chinese government has typically tightened controls around
important events such as Communist Party congresses. But the
Olympics, given their international nature, were supposed to be
different, attracting up to 500,000 foreigners in what was billed as
a giant coming-out party to announce China's arrival on the world scene.

"It is very disappointing. There has been a lot of exhilaration about
the Olympics. We thought tourists would be coming, restaurants would
be booked, people would be making a lot of money," said Jen Lin-liu,
an American food writer and owner of Black Sesame, a cooking school in Beijing.

The Olympics are not the only factor. The outbreak of violent
protests in Tibet and neighboring regions in March clearly rattled
the Chinese government and has led to heightened security across the
country. May's magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan province scared
off tourists who might have hoped to combine a panda-sighting trip to
western China with their Olympic travels.

Among the businesses that are suffering are hotels. As of late May,
Beijing's five-star hotels were only 77% booked and four-star hotels
were 44% booked for the Olympic period, according to the city's tourism bureau.

Both Chinese and foreign companies have been forced to cancel
meetings and business trips because of problems getting visas. The
Chinese Foreign Ministry has virtually eliminated the multiple-entry
visas that used to allow foreign businesspeople based in Hong Kong to
commute several times weekly into the mainland.

"It is not just a short-term irritant, but it might have a long-term
effect on foreign investment in China if people start talking about
moving businesses into Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia," said
Richard Vuylsteke, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in
Hong Kong, which has complained repeatedly to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China has also stopped granting "investor visas," six-month permits
widely used by English teachers and freelancers. The government is
requiring foreigners who wish to work in China to have advanced
degrees or expert certificates. A requirement that English teachers
be at least 25 years old and have two years' teaching experience, in
addition to their degrees, has knocked out the largest pool of
English teachers -- recent college graduates.

Goldkorn, the media analyst, said the government is enforcing some
visa rules that had been ignored the last few years.

"When I first got here in 1995, it was quite difficult to get a visa
or a job or apartment. Then it got very easy, and you could just show
up and bum your way into a job. Now in some ways they are going back
to the way they used to be," Goldkorn said.

Several observers said the restrictions would probably ease after the Olympics.

"It goes against China's own interests," Vuylsteke said, "if they
don't maintain the kinds of economic interactions they've had for a decade."
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