Data from the US State Department showed that 102,000 fewer B1/B2 visas were issued to Chinese applicants during the three months from May to September, representing a 13% drop year on year.

The two categories of visas are mainly issued to business travelers and tourists who enter the US as non-immigrants.

There were no figures available on the changes to the overall number of new visa applications received by the US Embassy in Beijing as well as its consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chengdu and Wuhan. But the noticeable drop in new non-settlement visas granted was apparently in line with the souring relations between the two nations, which are still locked in protracted trade friction.

It should come as no surprise that fewer Chinese tourists are heading for the US since the second half of the year, either because of their dislike of the hawkish, anti-China rhetoric and policies from the Donald Trump administration or as a result of a Beijing-mandated reduction in the guided tours to the US operated by Chinese travel agencies.

Nonetheless, Beijing papers including the Global Times still insist that China will refrain from using people-to-people exchanges as a tool to fight the trade war.

“The US should reflect on its visa barriers that keep Chinese visitors away,” said the paper, adding that if Chinese tourists and students do choose to go to anywhere else other than the US, this would only be because of the lengthy checks by US officials and high rejection rates.

Chinese tourists contributed no less than US$33 billion to the US economy in 2016, according to the US Travel Association.

A Chinese national is seen outside the US Consulate in Guangzhou. Photo: Weibo
A Chinese national outside the US Consulate in Guangzhou. Photo: Weibo

“The number of Chinese tourists has dropped by around 30% during the National Day golden week holiday compared with last year’s figure,” a US-based industry insider told the Global Times.

Some Chinese tourists eager to visit the US had to cancel their travel packages because their visas were rejected, and they then chose to fly to Canada or the UK, countries more friendly to Chinese visitors.

US airlines including United and Delta have decided to stop direct services from second-tier Chinese cities like Hangzhou and Xian.

Admissions of Chinese students by US institutions have also taken a beating due to a higher rejection rate of student visas this year, despite the fact that there are already more than 370,000 Chinese students studying in the US, the largest source of international students.

Beijing has blamed tightening visa policies and anti-China sentiments prevailing in Washington for keeping Chinese tourists, students and business executives from visiting the country.

Read more: Beijing papers suggest US cities ‘more dangerous than Xinjiang’