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Foreigners welcoming 'green card'
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-05 09:38

China's new "green card" system means foreigners in China can enjoy more freedom in travelling, shopping and accommodation as well as in entering and exiting the country.

The system, put into effect on August 15, allows foreigners to apply for China's Alien Permanent Residence Permits.

Eighty-three-year-old Joan Hinton, who has lived in China for more than 50 years, was one of the first 28 foreigners to get a "green card" this September in Beijing.

"You need identity cards to do almost everything now in China, which may not be convenient for foreigners. 'Green cards' will grant us more advantages and convenience," said Hinton, who studied livestock rearing in the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanization Sciences in 1979.

The "green cards" can serve alone as legal ID cards, and exempt those carrying them from applying for visas every time they enter and leave China.

The residence permits also enable foreigners to change their residence freely on the mainland.

Hao Chiyong, assistant minister of public security, considers the "green card" system a must for China if the country wants to adapt to economic globalization. He said it is also an active response to foreigners who want to carry out business and enjoy more freedom.

Gerhard Mairhofer, general manager of Shanghai Krupp Stainless Co Ltd, said the 10-year residence permits meant foreigners would avoid having to renew their short-term residence permits every six months.

Since New China was founded in 1949, the Chinese Government has treated foreigners differently from Chinese. But Beijing has been witnessing a gradual change in attitudes.

Before the mid-1980s, foreigners were confined to a small circle in Beijing, which centred around Tian'anmen Square with a radius of just 20 kilometres.

Posts were set up in major sectors of roads to supervise foreigners' activities. Billboards warning "Foreigners are forbidden to pass without permission" could be seen in many places.

James Harkness, country representative of WWF (the World Wildlife Fund) China, first visited China in 1976. He described the country then as an "isolated mysterious country."

He recalled that foreigners had to be accompanied by Chinese and could only go to designated places.

Dollars could only be converted to renminbi with a special foreign exchange certificate, which could be used only in stores opened for foreigners. Foreigners had to stay at hotels specifically catering to them.

But the deepening of China's reform and opening-up policy has gradually broken the restrictions. A law on control of the entry and exit of aliens was passed in November 1985. In 1986, a German director of the Wuhan Diesel Engine Factory in Central China's Hubei Province, became the first foreigner to be granted permanent residence.

Meanwhile, Beijing loosened restrictions on foreigners, pulling down the billboards in downtown areas and leaving only 100 such boards in the suburbs.

Harkness, however, still thought there too much was "forbidden" in the 1980s. For example, they had to rush back to their urban homes after travelling to the city's outskirts for a day trip.

"We couldn't sort out the feeling of confinement until the 1990s," he said.

In 1995, Beijing was fully opened to foreign tourists. They are now free to wander at will using any mode of transport - bike, car, or foot. There are now more than 100 foreign-funded businesses in Beijing's suburbs.

Last year, Beijing lifted the ban on foreigners' accommodation, enabling them to rent where they choose, including living in Chinese homes.

Similar freedoms can be enjoyed all over China. So far, China has approved permanent residence for more than 3,000 foreigners. There are an additional 230,000 foreigners living in the country with long-term residence permits valid for up to five years.

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