Visa-free transit could be extended Ravi Shankar

Updated: 2016-04-12 07:38

(China Daily)

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My brother was on a business trip to India recently and was - apparently - so efficient that he finished his assignment a week early.

Why not come to China and take the trans-Pacific route back home to Dallas? I suggested. There was little time to apply for a Chinese visa but since he is a US citizen, he could avail of the 72-hour visa-free transit, available to citizens of about 50 countries and offered by nearly 20 cities.

Three days in China? Do you think China is Singapore? was the retort.

I could see his point. Singapore or Hong Kong are bite-sized cities which can be enjoyed in a few days. More importantly, they are major transit hubs linking continents; unlike major Chinese mainland cities which are destinations in themselves.

For many people around the world, especially in countries not in the region, China is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and takes considerable planning. You don't fly to Xi'an (which offers visa-free transit) on a whim to see the Terracotta Warriors.

The typical tourist would like to take in the culture and cuisine of South China, the tranquil gardens of Suzhou, the majestic West Lake in Hangzhou, the sweeping landscapes of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region or the mystique of the Tibet autonomous region - and much more, not to mention Beijing or Shanghai.

Clearly, a 72-hour visa doesn't provide enough time to enjoy any one of those, let alone the whole country.

And at a time when foreign tourist arrivals are falling, making it easier for them to arrive in the country would make sense.

Last year, the number of foreigners visiting Beijing was 3.57 million, a drop of 2.2 percent over the previous year, which saw a decline of 5.7 percent year-on-year, according to the Beijing Tourism Development Commission.

While figures on how many tourists to Beijing utilized the visa-free facility last year were not available, in 2014, about 40,000 did, according to Beijing Capital International Airport Co Ltd - roughly 1 in 90.

A report released earlier this year by London-based BMI Research Group said one of the drawbacks of the Chinese inbound tourism market was the visa regime.

Conventionally, visa regimes between nations are decided by reciprocity and China cannot grant visa-free entry to people of nations which do not return the favor.

A 72-hour visa seems a compromise by China - but also appears parsimonious. Perhaps it could be more generous.

A step in that direction is the recent announcement that eligible visitors or businesspeople to the Yangtze River Delta - arriving in Shanghai, Hangzhou or Nanjing - would have a 144-hour visa-free transit and be free to travel in the region.

Now, if more cities or clusters followed this and, say, increased the visa-free transit by many, many more hours, it would be a start.

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Visa-free transit could be extended Ravi Shankar

(China Daily 04/12/2016 page2)