Mr Smith goes to Shanghai

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-9-18 18:18:01

Hanscom Smith, the US Consul General in Shanghai since September, held a press conference Tuesday to discuss not only his vision of serving the American community in the city, but also the US visa situation for Chinese citizens and the economic relations between the US and China. According to Smith, the Consulate General in Shanghai will process 400,000 visas this year.

Sharing the diversity

Hailing from Maine, Smith has worked at US embassies in Yaounde, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Kabul and Beijing. He has also worked in Iraq and the island of Taiwan.

Smith described Shanghai as a gateway allowing foreigners to learn about China. His first visit to China was to Shanghai in the 1990s. He was impressed by the vitality and the energy of the city and its people. He returned many times as a tourist and ultimately decided to learn Chinese.

While working on economic issues at the US Embassy in Beijing starting in 2012, he became quite familiar with China and the Chinese language. When asked about his Chinese language skills, Smith responded to the Global Times by saying: "haiyou jinbu de kongjian (there is still space for improvement). I still have a lot of work to do on my Chinese. I am fortunate that I have a digest of articles from different Chinese publications, and I have the chance to look at a very broad range.

"I am especially honored to have the chance to serve in Shanghai and to help support the bilateral ties between the United States and the people in China," Smith said.

Smith's partner is Eric Lü. When asked if he will get married in China like the British Consul General and his male partner, Smith said: "I have not yet had the chance to meet my British counterpart. But I congratulate him on his wedding." Smith went on to say that, "America's strength is its diversity. So I am very proud that in Shanghai we are able to reflect that diversity and share it with our friends in China."

Improved visa facilities

Smith is pleased with the US visa process provided by the consulate in eastern China. According to Smith, visa facilities have doubled in size to accommodate the demand. This year, the consulate in Shanghai will process over 400,000 visas. The number of Chinese visa applicants has increased significantly over recent years, and the consulate has responded to this surge with efforts to reduce the waiting time. According to Smith, those looking to obtain a US visa can now book an appointment with visa processing staff four to five working days in advance, down from a wait of several weeks just a few years ago.

Talking about the role of the Consulate General in Shanghai, Smith explained to the Global Times: "Our primary role is to serve the American community here. That takes many forms, including facilitating the business, commercial and people-to-people ties that help strengthen the US-China relationship. It will continue to be our emphasis."

According to Smith, roughly 50,000 American citizens now live in Shanghai.

Bilateral economic ties

The Consul General sees a lot of opportunities in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Shanghai and eastern China, in his view, are at the front of the country's economic trends. "US businesses are very interested in watching the Shanghai Free Trade Zone very closely. This is an important opportunity for China to develop its service economy," Smith told the Global Times.

He also encourages investment by Chinese citizens into the US, even though American officials have put the EB-5 investor visa scheme on hold for Chinese applicants until September 30 now that the annual quota has been filled. Smith remarked that there are many different ways for Chinese people to invest in the US, and the EB-5 program is only one channel for investment.

He emphasized that America has an extremely open economy, and is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world. Recent years have seen capital flows from China expand both in terms of volume and diversity. "We have seen Chinese investors going to the United States and investing in sectors across the board: real estate, manufacturing, energy, services," said Smith.

Hanscom Smith, the US Consul General in Shanghai (center), talks to members of the media at a conference Tuesday. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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