BEIJING, Oct. 3 (Xinhuanet) -- Foreigners in China have enjoyed more freedom in traveling, shopping, accommodation and especially in entry and exit, since the country's own "green card" system was put into effect this August.
The system, initiated with the implementation of Regulations on Examination and Approval of Permanent Residence of Aliens in Chinaon Aug. 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, is 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 has studied livestock raising in the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanization Sciences since 1979.
According to regulations, the Alien Permanent Residence Permit Hinton received can serve alone as a legal ID card.
Meanwhile, foreigners with Chinese "green cards" do not need toobtain visas and can enter and leave the country with their valid passport and Alien Permanent Residence Permits. They are also allowed to freely change residences on the mainland.
Hao Chiyong, assistant minister of public security, considered the "green card" system a must for China if the country wants to adapt to economic globalization and to promote the reform and opening-up policy. He said it is also a response to high-level foreigners who want to pursue their business and enjoy a freer life in China.
Gerhard Mairhofer, general manager of Shanghai Krupp Stainless Co. Ltd., said that the 10-year-valid "green cards," which enjoy the same recertification cycle with the ID cards of Chinese citizens, could save foreigners the trouble of renewing their short-term residence permits every half a year.
Since new China was founded in 1949, the Chinese government hasalways treated foreigners differently from Chinese. But recently, Beijing has witnessed the gradual change in attitude.
Before the mid-1980s, foreigners were confined to a small circle in Beijing, which centered at the Tian'anmen Square with a radius of 20 kilometers.
Posts were set up in major sectors of roads to supervise foreigners' activities and 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 must 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 reform and opening-up policy gradually broke down 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, central China's Hubei Province, became the first foreigner to be granted the permanent residence.
Meanwhile, Beijing also loosened restrictions on foreigners, pulling out the warning billboards in downtown areas and leaving only 100 such boards in the suburbs.
Harkness, however, still thought there were too much "forbidden" for foreigners in China in the 1980s. For example, they had to rush back to urban homes after traveling 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. Now, they can walk around the city's suburban areas by bike or by their own cars. There have been more than 100 foreign-funded businesses in its suburbs.
Last year, Beijing lifted the ban on foreigners' accommodation,which means they can choose dwelling places freely and can even lodge in Chinese homes.
Actually, foreigners now enjoy much freedom in all areas of 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 one to five years.
Currently, most of the major Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Chongqing, have started toissue green cards.