- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When Richard Nixon flew from Washington to Beijing in February 1972, his landmark visit to the People’s Republic of China, he brought the two capitals closer together than they had been since World War II. Yet more than three decades later, there is still no direct commercial flight connecting these two cities.

The Transportation Department now is considering a proposal to change this by creating the first nonstop, capital-to-capital route between these two key destinations. Selecting the Washington-to-Beijing route — one of four options before the agency — would not only close a significant service gap but it would bridge an important economic and geopolitical divide.

China is our third-largest trading partner. Our exports to China are growing more rapidly than our exports to the rest of the world. We share keen interests in scientific projects ranging from reducing air and water pollution to advancing AIDS research. And we are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and have a broad range of strategic interests that benefit from bilateral cooperation.

Eight former U.S. trade representatives, myself included, whose combined service spans six presidential administrations dating back to 1971, are unanimous in our belief it is in America’s economic and security interests to select Washington-to-Beijing as the route between the United States and China. This bipartisan group has respectfully urged our government to make this selection in the belief direct air travel would facilitate more regular personal exchange between Cabinet officials, legislators, diplomats, academics, policy analysts, and business executives with Beijing counterparts and thereby enhance mutual understanding.

European and Asian capitals already enjoy direct access to Beijing and the opportunities it provides. Tehran, Islamabad and Pyongyang have direct service to Beijing. So do London, Paris, Madrid and 22 other major world capitals. The capital of the United States belongs on that list.

Washington, D.C., is by far the largest metropolitan region in America without nonstop service to China. It is also the fastest-growing area in the country. With 80 percent of the region’s workers employed in the private sector, the District of Columbia has seen greater job growth this decade than any other region. D.C. leads the country in high-tech employment, surpassing even the San Francisco Bay area.

Washington has a strong traffic base already traveling to China on connecting flights through other U.S. cities. A Beijing flight from our nation’s capital would serve nearly 30 percent of the total U.S.-China travel market. D.C. also has the largest and fastest-growing Chinese population of all U.S. markets without nonstop service to China, far outpacing other applicant cities. The national capital region’s accelerated growth and job rates will ensure the commercial success of its route.

The United States and China, both major economic powers and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, share very significant political, commercial and cultural connections. It is time to connect our two capitals with direct air service. I hope the Transportation Department seizes this opportunity.

Carla Hills is vice chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, chairman of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and chairman and chief executive officer of Hills & Co. She is a former U.S. trade representative, 1989-1993.



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