China's visa-free policy ignites European enthusiasm, enhances exchanges
  ·  2024-05-14  ·   Source: Xinhua News Agency

Tourists visit a night market at Chengguan District in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, on April 28 (XINHUA)

"I went to China this time with a special thing: a passport without any visa on it," exclaimed Lucas Deckers, a Belgian in his 20s, on the Chinese video-sharing platform Douyin, with a picture showing him waving his burgundy travel document.

Since earlier this year, China has implemented a visa-free policy that exempts many European ordinary passport holders from the time-consuming and costly obligation, encouraging travelers from nearly a dozen European countries to explore this Asian country.

In a further move, Chinese President Xi Jinping, during his first European tour in nearly five years last week, announced that China has decided to extend visa exemption entry for citizens from 12 countries, 11 of them in Europe, on short-term visits to China until the end of 2025.

The policy, geared towards fostering interactions among Chinese and international citizens, has garnered widespread acclaim in Europe and is expected to improve relations between China and Europe in many ways.

Door opening wider 

The extended policy allows ordinary passport holders of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Malaysia, Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg, to enter and stay in China visa-free for up to 15 days for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit.

In a post on social media, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said the visa-free policy was "good news" for Hungarian tourists and business travelers heading for China.

As a matter of reciprocity, Hungarian authorities are issuing long-term visas, already at the first application, for managers of big Chinese companies undertaking investments in Hungary, he added.

These decisions will further strengthen cooperation between Hungary and China in the areas of economy and tourism, the top diplomat noted.

Mario Boselli, chairman of the Italy China Council Foundation, said the new visa-free policy indicates that China's door is opening wider, and will facilitate economic, trade and cultural exchanges between the two countries.

The visa-free policy for Spanish citizens represents "a significant milestone" in bilateral ties, said Jose Felix Valdivieso, chairman of IE University's China Center, which aims to promote educational and business cooperation between the two countries.

"It encourages a greater flow of people between China and Spain, enriching our societies with a diversity of perspectives and experiences," Valdivieso said, dubbing this move as "a catalyst for further growth and collaboration."

Boost for tourism 

Thanks to the policy, Jerome Pouille, a French panda-lover, easily arranged a China trip this spring to visit Yuan Meng, the first giant panda born in France. Last July, Yuan Meng was sent back to China's Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Seeing Yuan Meng living well in its hometown, Pouille felt "happy and satisfied."

The visa-free policy serves as an impetus for numerous European travelers to embark on exploratory journeys throughout China, and is perceived by European tour operators as a stimulus for tourism.

Gunther Gruber, senior consultant of the Austrian KUONI travel agency, said he is very happy that China has introduced the 15-day visa-free policy for Austria.

"China has always been one of the most visited tourist destinations for Austrians... We are now planning travel plans for the spring and summer of 2025 and will launch more travel products about China," Gruber said.

For many Europeans, visiting China is a complex thing. They have to plan ahead, manage their finances, and set aside time in advance.

"That's great if you don't have visa issues to worry about. This is very useful," said Davide Cougoule, senior manager of Geneva Tourism & Conventions Foundation, a Swiss tourism promotion association.

According to the Geneva office of Air China, the national carrier of China, following the visa exemption, there has been an average of 50 Swiss travelers on each Geneva-Beijing flight, constituting approximately 25 percent of all passengers.

Air China's figures also show that in March 2024, a total of 6,364 passengers traveled between Geneva and Beijing, up 374.9 percent from a year earlier.

According to Ralph Ossa, chief economist of the World Trade Organization (WTO), China's visa-free policy for European countries and the recovery of Chinese outbound tourism are conducive to global service trade.

Bridge for exchanges 

Barely two weeks after the policy took effect, the Chinese Language and Culture Center in Luxembourg organized a spring camp to visit China during the Easter holiday in April.

More than 20 Luxembourg students visited Beijing, Shanghai and other places in China, with some of them joining the camp just several days before departure, as the visa-free policy made the trip easier.

"This travel facilitation will encourage more Luxembourg citizens to travel to China and help strengthen people-to-people and commercial exchanges between our two countries," said Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg's deputy prime minister, in a statement.

The visa-free policy, a tangible move of China in pushing for high-level opening-up, has infused momentum into the exchanges between China and Europe.

During his official visit to China in April, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the German side appreciates China's visa-free entry policy for Germany and is willing to make it more convenient for Chinese citizens to visit Germany.

The policy has received an enthusiastic response from all walks of life in Austria, said Ernst Woller, president of the State Parliament of Vienna.

This measure will "definitely facilitate Austrian people to travel to China, strengthen personnel exchanges between the two countries, and further promote Austria-China relations and the exchanges between the two countries," Woller said.

During the first quarter of 2024, Chinese immigration management agencies processed over 141 million traveler trips. Among them, trips by foreign nationals reached 13.1 million, a year-on-year increase of 305.2 percent, said the National Immigration Administration (NIA) of China.

"The visa-free policy not only streamlines entry and departure, but also symbolizes China's warmer embrace of foreign travelers," said Deckers, already a Chinese-speaking influencer on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

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