Chinese WLan standard group denied US visas

US officials denied visas earlier this month to four representatives of a group developing China's Wireless Lan Authentication...

US officials denied visas earlier this month to four representatives of a group developing China's Wireless Lan Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) security protocol for wireless networks.

The move has raised questions in China about the US 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) which had planned to attend WLan standards meeting in Orlando, Florida, on 11 November.

The meeting was organised by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), said Liu Chaoyang, a spokesman for the group.

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 IEEE's 802.11 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 US embassy in Beijing that their visa applications had been denied, Liu said.

The applications of two non-technical team members were approved and they attended the Orlando meeting.

"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.

That complaint had received support from other member countries and some US companies at the meeting, he said.

Liu declined to speculate about why the visa applications were rejected, but he questioned whether the incident might reflect US opposition to Chinese involvement in setting WLan security standards.

Individual visa applications are confidential, said a spokeswoman for the US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Visas are often denied if the applicants do not demonstrate evidence of wanting to return to their home countries, or if the government is concerned about the transfer of sensitive technology out of the US, said Kelly Shannon, the State Department spokeswoman.

Under technology transfer rules, visas can be denied if US officials are concerned about specific technologies being taken into other countries, she added.

Whatever the reason, the visa incident appears at odds with official US trade policy.

Liu said the incident would not deter greater Chinese involvement in the process of setting international standards.

Sumner Lemon writes for IDG News Service

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