Former US trade representatives have urged the Department of Transportation to accept United Airlines’ proposal to connect Washington D.C. and Beijing through direct commercial flights for the first time.

The Capital-to-Capital coalition, which also has the support of various local business and tourism organizations, seeks to establish the link. Four airlines, including Northwest, Continental and American Airlines are also competing for direct flights to Beijing from other cities.

The former trade representatives wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Maria Cino which argued for the economic, geopolitical and strategic benefits involved in allowing the route to be established.

“We are convinced that the Sino-American relations can be significantly enhanced through increased and more regular personal visits by Washington-based leaders in both the public and private sectors ... with their Beijing counterparts,” the trade representatives wrote in a released statement.

China is the United States' third-largest trading partner after neighboring Canada and Mexico. It is also the second-largest foreign purchaser of U.S. Treasury securities, the trade representatives said in the letter.

The Department of Transportation is expected to decide by the end of 2006 whether it approves or declines the coalition’s request. According to United Airlines, Washington D.C is currently the largest metropolitan region without nonstop service to China, the fastest-growing market for U.S. exports.