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Decline Watch: U.S. now importing Chinese shoppers to buy its Chinese goods

Today's Amerislump data point comes from Ylan Q. Mui of the Washington Post

For the first time, lawmakers, businesses and even White House officials are courting consumers from cash-rich countries such as China, India and Brazil to fill the nation’s shopping malls and pick up the slack for penny-pinching Americans. They are wooing travelers with enticements such as coupons, beauty pageants and promises of visa reform. The payoff, they say, could be significant: 1.3 million new jobs and an $859 billion shot in the arm for the economy over the next decade.

“They’re their own little stimulus program,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, a trade group.

The trend underscores the depth of the United States’ reliance on countries once considered to be at the bottom of the global totem pole. The nation already counts on China and other countries to manufacture its goods, creating a $45 billion trade imbalance that is paid for with money borrowed from their coffers. Now officials are encouraging foreign travelers to buy some of those products back — and a growing number are happy to oblige.

Guo Hui, 37, who lives in Beijing, recently returned home from a two-week tour of Yellowstone National Park, Houston and Los Angeles. He estimated he spent $2,000 to rent a car and pay for gas and lodging for himself and his wife. Then there was the Ed Hardy T-shirt, the Apple laptop, the HP laptop, even baby food and formula for his child, totaling an additional $6,000.

Still, Guo said prices are significantly cheaper than in China — a pair of Adidas sneakers costs only $25 at a U.S. outlet mall.

“For that price in China, you can’t even buy counterfeits,” he said.

Decline-o-meter:

Increasing tourism is a great goal, but the idea of kick-starting an economic recovery by attracting Asian shoppers to the United States to buy goods that are, for the most part, made in Asia doesn't sound all that sustainable. The fact that Guo flew back over the Pacific with a pair of shoes that probably were shipped over the Pacific from Indonesia a few months earlier and that he saved money in the process sounds frankly ridiculous. 

On top of that, draconian security regulations mean the U.S. isn't even taking full advantage of its new status as the world's outlet mall: 

Last week, Rep. Joseph J. Heck (R-Nev.) introduced a bill aimed at cutting the time it takes to get a tourist visa to 12 days, citing waits at consulates in key markets that can stretch to more than 100 days.

The State Department has pledged to reduce wait times for appointments to 30 days, and a spokesman said it is adding a “significant” number of staffers in Brazil and China to keep up with demand. The bill is awaiting a committee hearing.

Guo, of Beijing, said he waited nearly two months for an interview for his visa. He said he is also frustrated that the pass is only good for one year, which means he could have to reapply before his next trip. New York, Miami and Orlando are on his list.

“I guess too many people want to go to the U.S.,” Hui said.

Well that's something, I guess. 

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

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Syrian National Council publishes maps of Syrian air defenses **updated

Correction: The website mentioned in the below post is owned by James L'Angelle, a supporter of the Syrian National Council but not an official spokesman for the organization. As such, the images posted on the site -- which L'Angelle said that he took from another blog -- cannot provide insights into the workings of the SNC. The official website of the SNC is www.syriannc.org. We regret the error.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which was formed on Sunday as an umbrella coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, hinted strongly that it was in favor of a no-fly zone over the country by publishing maps of Syrian air defenses on its website.

The SNC's web page on the implementation of a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians, similar to the one that exists over Libya, does not explicitly endorse such an option. It argues that while "the situation itself might warrant an air defense blanket," practical considerations make the creation of a no-fly zone more difficult.

But the pictures on the website tell a different story. Four detailed maps (1,2,3,4) show the placement of Syrian air defenses -- specifically the Soviet-designed S-25, S-75, S-125, and S-200 surface-to-air missiles, and the 2K12 "Kub" air defense system -- that an international force would presumably need to destroy to implement a no-fly zone. Another chart compares Syria's total number of anti-aircraft weapons, which it lists at 3,310, those of other nations.

SNC Chairman Burhan Ghalioun affirmed yesterday that the council "rejects any outside interference that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people." SNC members, however, have interpreted that statement to rule out the presence of foreign boots on the ground in Syria -- but not necessarily a no-fly zone.

Syrian National Council