U.S. officials earlier this month denied visas to four representatives of a group developing China's WAPI (Wireless LAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) security protocol for wireless networks, raising questions in China about the U.S. government's commitment to greater Chinese involvement in setting technical standards.
The incident involved a six-member team from the China Broadband Wireless IP Standards Group (BWIPS) who planned to attend a Nov. 11 WLAN standards meeting in Orlando, Florida, organized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), said Liu Chaoyang, a spokesman for the group in Beijing.
BWIPS is the group charged with the development of WAPI, the security protocol at the heart of a proposed Chinese WLAN standard that sparked controversy earlier this year. Before plans to implement the WAPI-based standard were shelved in April, fears had been raised that it could fragment the market for WLAN products as it was unlikely to be compatible with the IEEE802.11 WLAN standard, also known as Wi-Fi, that is commonly used around the world.
The visa incident occurred three days before the Orlando meeting, when the four technical representatives of the team were informed by the U.S. embassy in Beijing that their visa applications had been denied, Liu said. The visa applications of two nontechnical team members were approved and they attended the Orlando meeting, he said.
"According to the ISO rules, this rejection (of the visa applications) cannot be accepted by member countries," Liu said, adding that the Chinese delegation had made a formal complaint regarding the incident at the meeting. That complaint had received support from other member countries and some U.S. companies, he said.
Liu declined to speculate on reasons why the four technical team members had their visa applications rejected by U.S. officials, but he questioned whether the incident might reflect U.S. opposition to Chinese involvement in setting WLAN security standards.
Individual visa applications are confidential, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Among the common reasons that visas are denied: Applicants don't demonstrate enough evidence of wanting to return to their home countries, or the U.S. government is concerned about the transfer of sensitive technology out of the U.S., said Kelly Shannon, the State Department spokeswoman.
Under a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign visitors to the U.S. are assumed to want to immigrate unless they establish proof of their desire to return home, Shannon said.
"If one does not establish significant ties to his home country, his visa can be denied," Shannon said. "The onus is on the applicant to establish that he or she would be compelled to return home."
Under technology transfer rules, visas can be denied if U.S. officials are concerned about specific technologies being taken into other countries, she added.
Whatever the reason, the visa incident appears at odds with official U.S. trade policy. In March, senior U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, wrote a letter to Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan that stated the U.S. government hoped to see greater Chinese involvement in international discussions over technical standards.
Looking ahead, Liu said the incident would not deter from greater Chinese involvement in the process of setting international standards. "This is the trend," he said.
(Grant Gross, in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.)