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Beijing Lifts Accommodation Limits on Overseas Tourists

Starting from Wednesday, Beijing no longer designates accommodation for its overseas guests, as it had done over the past half century.

Beijing police say that people from overseas may choose where to live in Beijing, including households in those old hutongs (lanes), a Mongolian name for streets with wells, where most traditional courtyards, popularly known as siheyuan or four-sided enclosed yards, still can be seen.

But they are not allowed to stay in non-open areas and military forbidden zones, say the police Wednesday.

Hotels, hostels, or inns in Beijing that have acquired business licenses are able to receive overseas guests from now on. But in the past, only some star-labeled hotels, usually luxurious, were designated to host these tourists for the purposes of their personal security and safeguarding social stability.

"By lifting accommodation limits on overseas tourists, we follow basic WTO principles of equity, national treatment, and non-discrimination," said Zhang Yue, deputy-director of the Bureau of Public Security of Beijing Municipal People's Government.

Beijing police tried out the reform in eight districts on May 28, hoping to woo more overseas business people, tourists, students and scholars with this new policy.

Foreigners coming to China have been given "special" treatment since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. Quite a few tourist destinations sold tickets especially prepared for foreigners, price of which was usually higher than tickets sold to Chinese. Foreigners had their own hotels to live in and even their own currency -- foreign exchange certificate -- to buy duty-free goods or goods in great demand but short supply. The foreign exchange certificate, beginning circulation at the turn of 1970s and 1980s, when China started its reform and opening up drive, did not quit until January 1, 1995.

But not all foreigners appreciated these. They complained for not being able to enjoy the national treatment.

Beijing currently has more than 300 hotels designated for overseas guests. In 2002 alone, Beijing received some 3.1 tourists from overseas, earning foreign exchange of US$3.1 billion, both hitting historical records.

Beijing expects to welcome 4.63 million foreign tourists by the year 2008.

Foreign-funded enterprises registered in Beijing accounted for 9,172, and foreign firms set up 8,028 representative offices in Beijing by the end of 2002. Foreign residents in Beijing surpassed 50,000.

(Xinhua News Agency October 2, 2003)

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