Visa-free travel opens 'big door' to region

Pacts with ASEAN countries to boost tourism industry, people exchanges

By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong and YANG WANLI in Bangkok | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-17 07:19
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Tourists visit the Merlion Park in Singapore on Dec 21. The mutual visa-exemption agreement between China and Singapore, effective from Feb 9, is set to further boost people-to-people exchanges. XINHUA

For millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region, traveling to and out of China is becoming easier than ever before.

University associate professor Sivakumar Kumaresan is hoping to return to Shangri-La in southwestern Yunnan province now that China has granted visa-free access to Malaysian travelers. The 50-something Malaysian visited the city in 2017 and describes it as "one of the most beautiful places I've been to".

And now that he doesn't have to go through the hassle of applying for a visa, Sivakumar is also keen to go to Beijing to visit his extended family.

Like many citizens of the multicultural Southeast Asian nation, Sivakumar is of mixed race, the son of an ethnic Chinese mother and an ethnic Indian father. "I do wish to visit Beijing (to know more about its) history, plus I've got family there," said Sivakumar who teaches chemical engineering at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Sivakumar is just one of the growing number of Malaysians who are planning to go to China after authorities announced in November that Malaysian tourists will be allowed to enter the country for up to 15 days without a visa. Uzaidi Udanis, chairman of the Malaysia Inbound Tourism Alliance, said travel agents have seen "a lot of movement from Malaysia to China" since December.

Uzaidi said that Malaysians are keen to not only explore China but also to see their relatives.

Since Dec 1, Malaysia has extended visa-free access to travelers from China with the policy to be in place until the end of 2024. Uzaidi expects it will lead to an influx of Chinese tourists, noting that a growing number of Chinese businesspeople are going to Malaysia on weekends just to play golf.

He said the visa-free policy won't only benefit the travel and tourism industry but the national economy as well, as it will encourage more businesspeople to invest in Malaysia."Tourism is a big door for us to (encourage more) people-to-people connection," Uzaidi told China Daily.

It's this "big door" that Malaysia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wanted to open when they started allowing Chinese travelers visa-free entry.

Apart from Malaysia, Singapore on Jan 25 signed a visa-exemption agreement with China. The agreement commenced on Feb 9 in time for the Chinese New Year holiday.

Thailand and China on Jan 28 signed off on mutual visa exemptions starting on March 1.

Indonesia is planning to extend visa-free access to tourists from 20 countries, including China.

"The introduction of the visa-free policy, coupled with promotion on social media, holds significant importance as it is expected to attract a larger pool of potential Chinese tourists, igniting their interest and willingness to explore these four nations," Puvaneswaran Kunasekaran, a senior social and development sciences lecturer at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, told China Daily.

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