Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree

China's visa-free policy will boost more people-to-people exchanges

John Gong


Editor's note: John Gong, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a professor at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and VP of Research and Strategy at the UIBE-Israel. The article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on November 24 that China has decided to apply a unilateral visa-free policy to more countries on a trial basis, which involves extending visa-free treatment to travelers holding ordinary passports from six countries, namely France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia.

What it means is that from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024, citizens of those countries entering China for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, or transiting for no more than 15 days, will not need a visa. It appears this is a trial program. If it is successful and doesn't cause other societal issues, I am sure the program will move to a permanent basis.

The program is significant in many ways. First, only a handful of countries enjoy this visa-free entry privilege. I say it is a privilege because it saves a lot of hassles and visa-related expenses for foreign entrants. Second, usually, the visa-free entry arrangement is conducted on a mutual bilateral basis, which means the entrant's home country also needs to offer reciprocal treatment for Chinese citizens, and China is of course no exception as far as I know. This is an issue somewhat involving sovereignty and mutual respect.

But this time Beijing's announcement is for a unilateral traffic flow that is coming into China, other than concerning Malaysia also offers the same to Chinese visitors. For these other five European Union countries, I guess that Chinese visitors will have to wait for a while for the same treatment, as it involves the Schengen visa issue that allows for entry into other European countries in the Schengen area which has practically no border control among countries.

Foreign tourists enjoy the scenery on a bamboo raft at the Yulong River scenic spot in Yangshuo County, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, July 15, 2023. /CFP
Foreign tourists enjoy the scenery on a bamboo raft at the Yulong River scenic spot in Yangshuo County, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, July 15, 2023. /CFP

Foreign tourists enjoy the scenery on a bamboo raft at the Yulong River scenic spot in Yangshuo County, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, July 15, 2023. /CFP

The conventional wisdom in the media in interpreting Beijing's move is that it is aimed at attracting more tourists from these countries. Three years of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the global tourism industry, and the visa-free policy will turn the course in a positive direction.

The central government has been taking steps in recent months – including but not limited to restoring international flight routes to revive the tourism sector. China's aviation authority said in October that 16,680 weekly flights were expected from November through March, with passenger flights expected to reach 71 percent of the total before the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the successful outcomes of the recent summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden is to increase Sino-U.S. flights from 48 (24 round trips) to 70 per week.

Earlier in November, China expanded its visa-free transit policy to 54 countries. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, in Beijing for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Premier Li Qiang, described the announcement as "excellent." Germany's ambassador to China, Patricia Flor commented: "This decision will facilitate travel to China for many German citizens to an unprecedented extent. We hope the Chinese government will implement the measures announced today for all EU member states."

However, this new measure is more than just about attracting tourists. It is more about China's continued opening up to the world, continued integration into the world, and continued commitment to people-to-people exchanges with the world. In that sense, the country and its people would certainly hope the rest of the five countries will offer something similar in return in the future.

Just as Premier Li Qiang said at the sixth China International Import Expo (CIIE), "China sincerely hopes to work with other countries in the world, to meet each other halfway and achieve mutual success on an open stage."

I believe that in the future, the six countries will have more people-to-people and cultural exchanges with China, and at the same time, more win-win results can be achieved between China and these countries.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

Search Trends