International ties

India should ease visa policy for Chinese

By Binod Singh (
Updated: 2011-02-16 13:56
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This spring festival was special for me and my Chinese friends. It was special for me because I decided to take my future Chinese family to see India. It was special for my Chinese friends because most of them decided to spend a fortnight in India after the Lunar New Year. Most of them were backpackers and frequent travelers, and they went to the country for the first time.

It was a great experience for all of them, and all have come out with their travelogs, in Chinese, of course. Most of them described how they got their visas. First of all, none of them were sure of getting the Indian tourist visa smoothly, because of so many complicated documents required. They conclude in their blog that it is easier to go to the United State.

It is not a puzzle for any informed citizen of India to understand the government of India's visa policy toward our neighbors. Our country has been most vulnerable to cross-border terrorism, and the 2008 attack on Mumbai Taj Mahal and Hilton hotels had shocked the whole nation, and it is still fresh in our memory. India's home minister had to resign and a new home minister, a graduate of Harvard Business School, was put in charge of the most sensitive ministry in India.

Since then, travel to India has not been easy, especially for those who intend to travel on conference visas. A special approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs is required. If the visitor is from China, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, then the government has to be overcautious in granting a visa. Sometimes it really becomes a nightmare and one gets the visa hours before reporting at the airport. Chinese have raised this issue with Indian officials but so far there has been no consideration.

I met many students who planned to study in India but due to delayed visas they could not join their session. The Indian Embassy in Beijing is coming out with a special facilitation for these students, as I was told last year by one of the officials posted there. But it may take some time to materialize.

But, forget about tourist visas, the visa for academic scholars is also given on a case-by-case basis. As India is rising, there is a lot happening in the capital city. But due to visa formalities only a few lucky participants from mainland China can take part in these events.

In last week's conference of Kumarajiva (in Chinese, Jiumoluoshi), the famous translator of Buddhist script in the Tang dynasty, only half of the Chinese scholars could reach Delhi and read their papers.

The issue in China is not very different. We also find very few Indian scholars visiting China. But it is not because Indian scholars are denied visas to China. It is because Chinese obsession with Western theory and science is still on the peak and Indian scholars may not have much to offer to the rising superpower.

Despite all these difficulties, our plane was fully occupied and 95 percent of the passengers were amateur travelers from China. Many of them were accompanied by family on their maiden visit to the mystical land (as they perceive).

If I recall, few years back there were no direct flights between the two capitals. Now you can catch a direct flight from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming or Chengdu connecting to sister cities in India, apart from many international connecting flights through Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (especially Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia).

During his last visit to India in December 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced in New Delhi that 2011 would be made the Year of Tourism for India and China. As he said, in the last five years many more Indians visited China than vice-versa.

India is a great civilization and every Chinese couple thinks of visiting the Taj Mahal (monument of eternal love). But it will be possible only if the country's government makes it a little more flexible for Chinese travelers to visit India.

Chinese people are now known for their spending behaviors across Europe, and many of these countries are considering allowing the policy of visa-on-arrival for travelers from mainland China. India can also benefit from the growing wealth of Chinese people. It will be in the interest of good India-China relations for Chinese citizens to be allowed to travel to India for a short period on flexible terms and conditions.

Let us recognize that the two civilizations are complementary and it has always been a two-way street of learning from each other. The theory of India always being the teacher to China is obsolete, and we must recognize that we have received many imports from our largest neighbor China. Silk, paper, tea, and other items are all imports from China in ancient times.

I conclude this piece of opinion by quoting none other than India's first Prime Minister Mr. Jawaharlala Nehru, who said as early as 1950: "during these thousand years...each country (China and India) learned something from each other, not only in region of thoughts and philosophy, but also in the arts and science of life. Probably China was more influenced by India, than India by China, which is a pity, for India could well have received, with profit to herself."

The author teaches at the School of Asian and African Studies of Beijing Foreign Studies University. He may be reached at