China has started issuing visas to Japanese citizens again, after suspending the process in January to hit back at COVID-19 measures imposed on Chinese travelers. The visa spat has had an impact on tourism in both countries.
Hu Jiying, vice-general manager at China Youth Travel Service told CGTN that since Sunday, when China began issuing visas for Japanese people again, they have been in contact with their customers.
The travel agency was monitoring media coverage for updates, and says the policy change came sooner than expected.
"People from both the Chinese and Japanese tourism industries are eagerly looking forward to the resumption of bilateral tourism exchanges. As Chinese President Xi Jinping said, amity between people is the key to sound relations between states. Inbound tourism is also called people-to-people diplomacy. We hope such 'people-to-people diplomacy' can resume soon to promote the bilateral relationship." Hu said.
On January 10, the Chinese embassy in Tokyo stopped issuing ordinary visas to Japanese citizens, after Japan's imposed new COVID-related entry restrictions targeting Chinese passengers. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed disappointment over Beijing's decision. Industry insiders say they didn't expect disputes over border management to impact tourism to Japan.
Last week, the Japanese embassy in China said its visa operations have returned to normal, following changes to the epidemic situation. It means Chinese citizens can enter Japan normally again.
But some say there's another meaning - a gesture of friendship, as Japan sees increased business, tourism and economic ties with China, a visa suspension is simply not realistic.
According to China Youth Travel Service, its visa applications to Japan decreased in January due to the policy changes. Currently, only five year multiple entry visas, business visas and temporary visitor visas are being issued. And numbers are down significantly.
"In January, the Japanese embassy suspended some of its work, which caused a big impact on the visa processing of Chinese tourists to Japan. The harsh entry policy largely dampened the enthusiasm of Chinese tourists. Our data shows that inquiries and bookings have been greatly affected during this period." said Han Jie, President of CYTS Aoyou Technology Development Co., Ltd.
Before the pandemic in 2019, tourism contributed 7.3 percent to Japan's total GDP, according to the country's national tourism organization. In the same year, China was Japan's biggest source of tourists. Its travelers accounted for over one third of total visitor spending.