"China and U.S. tourism should not be at the mercy of what is happening (politically). The global economy is integrating more and more, our dependence on each other is growing. We must cherish this and enhance our mutual respect and understanding of each other to ensure peace and stability."
Zhang Xilong, head of an official China Tourism delegation, spoke to Xinhua at the "Beautiful China: Beyond Your Imagination" U.S.-China Tourism Conference hosted in Los Angeles on Saturday.
A crowd of 250 people, all representatives of the tourist industry from China and the United States, attended the conference at Huntington Library and Gardens, which was designed to introduce American tourist industry professionals and U.S. government officials to the beauties and attractions of China.
Two days before the conference, despite strong warnings from business groups and trade experts, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that could impose tariffs on up to 60 billion U.S. dollars of imports from China and place restrictions on Chinese investments in the United States.
Calling these measures "a very bad precedent," China's Ministry of Commerce issued a warning the following day that such a move would be against "the interests of China, the United States and the world at large."
However, under the shade of a trade war ignited by Washington, key players of the tourist industry remained optimistic and hoped to continue growing a mutually beneficial tourist trade in the coming years.
Kathryn Smits, vice president of International Tourism at the Lose Angles Tourism and Convention Board, believed the healthy trends would not be affected by the White House.
"For LA, we've seen tourism has remained strong despite what's going on with the administration," she told Xinhua.
"We have a campaign called 'Everyone is Welcome,' because we want everyone to understand that LA is still a very welcoming city."
"Ten years ago, China did not even rank as one of LA's top 10 markets. Now, it's No.1, due to a 40 percent increase in tourism between the U.S. and China in the last few years," she continued.
She added that the City of Angels has attracted more than 1 million Chinese tourists every year since 2016.
The goal of LA's Tourism Board is to welcome 50 million visitors from around the world by 2020 and she wished China every success in expanding theirs as well.
Aaron Wodin-Schwartz, vice president for Public Policy and Public Affairs for Brand USA, the public-private cooperative agency formed in 2010 to promote travel to the United States, said: "Travel and tourism is a critical contributor to the U.S. economy and our balance of trade, making up 11 percent of U.S. total exports and 35 percent of every service export."
"In 2016, China remained the No. 1 source of travel and tourism spending in the U.S., with over 33 billion dollars spent by Chinese visitors here the U.S., and is the No. 5 source of visitors to the U.S., so they remain a critical market," he affirmed, adding that the agency's target of attracting 4.5 million Chinese tourists yearly in 2022 had not changed.
His expectation was shared by Zhang, who said Chinese tourists traveling overseas were expected to grow to 200 million over the next five years from 120 million in 2016, which would energize the global tourism market and help balance international trade.
But they all made it clear that it was not just about commerce.
"We're here to build bridges between our two countries," Wodin-Schwartz affirmed. "The friends and relationships we have been able to build with China have led to increased understanding ... That's what travel is all about."
Zhuang Zhizhe, Chinese deputy consul general in Los Angeles, said that tourism has become a growth point for China-U.S. trade as "more and more of the Chinese and American people have traveled to each other's country to enjoy its beautiful scenery, gourmet food and appreciate its history and culture. All this helps to eliminate prejudice or misunderstanding and increase trust."
"Come see for your own eyes the true China," suggested Zhang Xilong, informing the assembly that China was responding productively to meet the needs of its growing number of foreign visitors, especially with the China-hosted 2022 Winter Olympics looming large on the horizon.
Zhang also mentioned that 2018 was the 40th anniversary of China's adoption of the opening up and reform policy and an important year in China's implementation of its initiative on the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road Initiative).
Responding to a question on Trump's recent trade tariffs on China, Zhang replied: "They cause a concern to people in the U.S., China, and other countries and will surely have impact on the tourism industry."
He said the growing tourist trade between the two nations had been the fruitful results that came from the efforts of both sides.
"Mutual understanding and respect is the foundation needed to create a relationship for the future," he said.