By George Tsai
In fact, few local people are aware of the news that already appeared in Chinese-language dailies here.For the first time, the United States will officially welcome them with open arms in late spring or early summer. It sounds too good to be true, though. The two countries may have already signed an agreement to facilitate that historic event.According to a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., the two nations have recently signed an agreement allowing Chinese citizens to travel in the United States. It will benefit both sides culturally and economically.The United States is the last frontier most Chinese crave to explore. And to the vast majority of the Chinese tourists, the Big Apple is the must-see place on their U.S. tour.Queens, which has thousands of Chinese immigrants, is naturally on their travel itinerary. Surely many of them are expected to take advantage of the trip to see their relatives and friends in this borough. Chinese coming to this country currently fall into three categories: students doing graduate work at colleges; groups on official tours or business trips; illegal immigrants brought here by human smugglers.China has a population of 1.3 billion, almost five times that of the United States. Supposing 130,000, or 0.01 percent of the total, wanted to visit this country, the U.S. State Department probably would have to double its consulate offices across China to handle surging applications for tourist visas or interviews if required. The figures are very likely to double or triple.Yes, in recent years China has made tremendous progress in its economy, producing more millionaires and middle-class families than we thought. To the wealthy and younger generation, communism has been buried in oblivion.The westernization of China is apparently in full swing. Young people show growing interest in things American and European.An acquaintance returned last week from a sightseeing trip to Shanghai, China's largest commercial center. He said he found little trace of communism. Conversely, he said, it appears to be a capitalist city in its own right. Western corporate buildings are rising at a fast clip there. Of course, he said, it will take rural areas years to catch up with big cities in terms of quality of life.At this point 22 European countries have opened their doors to Chinese tourists, who have earned a reputation as big spenders in that part of the world.It seems as though all the Chinese tourists squander money like millionaires. Their shopping sprees in Paris, London and Rome has taken local merchants by surprise, according to various reports.Well-healed Chinese tourists want to buy the best things available. They are determined to catch up on all the latest luxuries the world can offer. Cartier jewelry and Rolex watches are among their favorite items. Their penchant for extravagance may eclipse the spending habits of many Westerners.Many of us here find it hard to accept that fact; some think that communism is synonymous with poverty and backwardness. That perception about China is now correct only to a small degree. Two communist countries, Cuba and North Korea, may still be defined that way.Coincidentally, Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) met in early December to discuss ways to promote tourism. Before that Marshall, together with the state transportation agency, sought to launch a “Discover Queens'' campaign to draw tourists to Queens, where there are about 1.028 million immigrants from different ethnicities.Queens is unique. It has something that other boroughs don't. It has two airports Ð Kennedy International Airport and the LaGuardia Airport and, of course, a flourishing commercial center Ð Flushing.Nevertheless, we should not be content with what we have. We must have something special to attract tourists.To that end, Marshall should urge conglomerates to build an ultra-modern mall as well as upscale hotels and gourmet restaurants with fast transportation links between the two airports and Flushing and Manhattan. At this point there is only the AirTrain linking JFK and downtown Jamaica or Howard Beach. It should be noted that ethnic restaurants are widespread in Flushing.Queens could have a fair share of New York City tourism pie. The Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper in New York, quoted Cristyne Nicolas, chief executive officer of the New York City Development Corporation, as saying that nearly 40 million people had visited the Big Apple in 2003. The figures exceeded the previous year's by 3 million.Predictably, more foreign tourists will come to New York if the city wins the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. The Flushing Meadows Corona Park could be the site of the major contest arena. The bidding competition will take place in May. Let's keep our figures crossed.