U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is urging Chinese companies to step up their foreign direct investment in the United States.  At the same time, he noted that the huge U.S. trade deficit with China is fueling protectionist sentiment in the United States.  Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

U.S. companies have invested $22 billion in China.  In contrast, Chinese companies, flush with cash from the country's economic boom, only invest about $550 million in the United States.

In a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the U.S.-China Business Council, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez encouraged more Chinese investment in the United States.

"We can't say it enough, please come to the U.S.  Invest in the U.S.  You will find no better market in the world in which to build a business, create wealth and create opportunities," Gutierrez said.

The secretary said the U.S. government is preparing a
10-city series of programs to introduce Chinese investors to opportunities in the United States.  At the same time, Washington is also trying to streamline the application process for U.S. visas for Chinese businesspeople.

One concrete development the U.S. official touted was the implementation of an agreement for Chinese tour groups to go to the United States.

"That's a big deal for us," Gutierrez said. "That's the first group travel, first group travel.  Not only is it good for business, it will increase business on both sides, but think of what it will do for the understanding amongst both peoples."

The first Chinese tour group heads to the United States in June.  Gutierrez said tourism is an important business for the United States because the United States has a tourism surplus.

Gutierrez acknowledged that the U.S. trade deficit with China went down slightly in the most recent reporting period.  But he warned that it is still $256 billion and warned that it is fueling American protectionist sentiment.

Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for legislation to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing fails to act on complaints about trade barriers and currency controls.

The U.S. official was in Beijing to meet his new Chinese counterpart, Chen Deming, and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Beijing's envoy to long-running trade talks with Washington.