The State Department said yesterday that the United States has withdrawn some transit privileges for Chinese nationals in retaliation for the detention and fining of a number of Americans in Peking for failure to obtain a Chinese transit visa.
State Department spokesman John Hughes said the measure, which went into effect on June 30, followed the failure of extensive negotiations in Peking to resolve what he called a "unilateral action by the Chinese."
The U.S. action places Chinese in the same category as travelers from North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq. Travelers from other countries are allowed to enter the United States without a visa on what is called "direct and continuous passage"--refueling stops or very short layovers in airport transit lounges. Longer layovers require transit visas.
State Department officials took a low-key approach to the visa row yesterday, avoiding any suggestion that it is a major problem in what is characterized as a generally improving atmosphere in U.S.-Chinese relations. "Relations with all countries hit an occasional bump," said one official, "and this is one of those bumps."
According to reports from Peking, the Chinese action apparently stems from an incident in San Francisco in September 1981, when five Chinese officials arriving en route to Canada without a transit visa on the Chinese national airline were told they would either have to pay a $1,000 fine or return to Peking. The airline eventually promised to pay.
The Chinese reportedly have not referred directly to this affair, but in the past six months there have been about 20 incidents when Americans have been detained and fined $1,000 in Peking before being allowed to continue their flights. Almost all the incidents, including a recent one with a 15-year-old girl, have involved Pakistan International Airline flights on refueling stops.