News / Asia

US Urges China to Lower Trade Barriers

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke delivers a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China and members of United States-China Business Council, in Beijing, September 20, 2011.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke delivers a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China and members of United States-China Business Council, in Beijing, September 20, 2011.

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke is urging Beijing to reduce barriers to foreign companies doing business there, reflecting the businesses' growing frustrations with the pace of Chinese economic reform.

In an address to American executives in Beijing Tuesday, Ambassador Locke praised China’s rapid economic development over the past 30 years, and said it was greater openness that made that prosperity possible.

But he expressed concern that the trends in China are now heading toward what he described as "a return to the state planning and industrial policies of the past."

“China’s current business climate is causing growing frustrations among foreign business and government leaders, including my colleagues back at home,” Locke said.

He added the biggest barrier to greater U.S.-China economic cooperation is a lack of openness in many areas of the Chinese economy.  He listed areas where he thinks the Chinese government has what he called counterproductive policies.

“Take, for example, China’s foreign direct investment policies, where foreign businesses face substantial restrictions in participating in a variety of Chinese industries, ranging from healthcare to energy to financial services and several others," he said. "And in industries like mining, power generation and transportation, the Chinese government selects national champions and effectively shuts out foreign competition altogether.”

At the same time, Locke’s speech Tuesday to the U.S. business community in China emphasized that U.S.-China economic cooperation is essential to global economic recovery.

Ted Dean, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said that Locke’s recommendations would also benefit Chinese companies.

“But then he also talked about issues that are certainly a priority for Chinese companies, like visas, like export controls, like investing in the United States," Dean said.  "And so, I think there was a lot that a Chinese company would look at and see prospects for help in the future as well.”

In his speech, Locke said President Barack Obama has ordered a total review of the U.S. export control system to enhance national security while eliminating unnecessary obstacles.  China has long said that U.S. export controls prevent it from importing some high-tech commodities.

The ambassador also said the U.S. government is working to reduce the wait times needed to obtain visas to the United States.

Locke is the first Chinese American to serve as ambassador to Beijing, but his humble travel habits have drawn as much scrutiny as his ethnicity. A photograph of him carrying his own luggage and buying his own coffee at the Starbucks in the Seattle airport, on his way to Beijing, was widely circulated on the Chinese Internet.

The photo drew comments saying his appearance and actions resembled an ordinary traveler, instead of a high-ranking diplomat flanked by assistants.

More recently, a Chinese journalist at a recent World Economic Forum in Dalian asked Locke if he flies economy class because the United States owes China so much money. Locke responded that is the standard policy for all U.S. officials.

China owns more than $1 trillion worth of U.S. debt.

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