US President Barack Obama yesterday announced a deal to extend visas for Chinese going to the US to work or study, insisting he wants China “to do well” despite simmering tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
“The United States welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China,” Obama said in a speech at the APEC CEO summit at the China National Convention Center in Beijing.
However, he also walked a delicate line between reaching out to Beijing and raising thorny issues, following up the visa announcement with calls for China to free up its markets and tightly controlled exchange rate, and to respect human rights and media freedoms.
Obama waded for the first time into the weeks of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, saying the protests were “a complex issue,” but avoiding violence in the territory was key.
“Our primary message has been to make sure violence is avoided,” he told reporters, adding that the US would “continue to have concerns about human rights” in China.
Short of denouncing China’s handling of the crisis, Obama said the US would not stop speaking out about human rights in China and the situation in Hong Kong because of US interests there.
“We don’t expect China to follow an American model in every instance, but we’re going to continue to have concerns about human rights... Our primary message has been to make sure that violence is avoided,” he said.
China has labeled the demonstrations illegal and has previously told Washington to stay out of the issue.
The new visa deal will see student and exchange visas extended to five years, with business and tourist visas’ validity stretched out to a decade, up from one year now.
There were 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the US last year, Obama said, contributing US$21 billion to the economy and supporting more than 100,000 jobs.
“This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers,” he said, describing it as an “important breakthrough which will benefit our economies, bring our people together.”
“I’m pleased that President Xi [Jinping (習近平)] has been a partner in getting this done,” he said.
One senior US official called the agreement “a really big win” and “a really big deal for the economy.”
“We look to China to create a more level playing field on which foreign companies are treated fairly,” Obama said, adding the US was looking to China to “move definitively toward a more market-determined exchange rate and, yes, to stand up for human rights and freedom of the press.”
“We don’t suggest these things because they are good for us,” Obama said, adding he would raise the issues in his meetings with Xi. “We suggest that China do these things for the sake of sustainable growth in China and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”
Additional reporting by Reuters
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