Visa relaxation

‘Ideological disparities and discrimination’ to blame for Chinese trouble getting visas, says consular official

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:37pm

Amid ongoing complaints from Chinese mainlanders about the tiny number of no-visa entry destinations offered by their passports, a Foreign Ministry official says “discrimination” and ideological differences are to blame for Chinese facing trouble getting foreign visas.

“Certain countries view Chinese people with a jaundiced eye, unwilling to accept us due to ideological disparities,” Huang Bing, director of the Department of Consular Affairs, told Beijing Youth Daily in an interview on Tuesday.

“This [mindset] has led them to adopt a ‘prevent and control’ visa policy towards our citizens … reflected by the substantial materials required, more stringent scrutiny, and prolonged application process,” said Huang, who is also in charge of providing consular assistance and protection for overseas Chinese citizens.

His comment was apparently in response to those angered by the prolonged and troublesome visa application process. Many have lamented why so few countries allow them to travel freely, despite China becoming the world’s second largest economy and arguably in position to be the next superpower. Such sentiments are often reinforced prior to long holidays in China as people plan their trips.

As of the beginning of this year, twenty countries grant Chinese passport holders visa-free entries, with Bahamas and Thailand expected to be added to the list soon. In addition some two dozen countries and territories also grant visa-on-arrival access or their equivalent to Chinese citizens.

However, this number still lags far behind the number for those holidaymakers from the majority of developed economies. Citizens from the United States and Japan, for example, are exempt of visa requirements to travel to more than 170 countries and territories, according to immigration consultancy Henley and Partners.

Hong Kong and Macau SAR passport holders have visa-free access to 152 and 118 destinations respectively. Even Taiwan, which only maintains diplomatic relations with barely two dozen countries, has visa-free entry status to 134 countries.

The stark difference in the figure has underscored the embarrassing status of the Chinese passport, prompting many netizens to blame China’s diplomatic services for failing to add more nations to the list, and referring to those currently on the list as “poor and chaotic”.

They claim these nations would grant visa-free entry status to almost any country in the world.

The official’s comments came at a time when Chinese people, more than ever are willing to travel overseas and can afford the expense.

According to China’s National Tourism Administration, the largest ever population of more than 97.3 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad last year, up 14 million from the year before.

Although last year’s figures of Chinese overseas spending have yet to be released, they will no doubt be the largest spending figures in the world.

Chinese mainland tourists had already overtaken those of US and Germany in total overseas expenditure in 2012, splashing out a total of US$102 billion on shopping and other services, a jump of 40 per cent from the previous year.

This rapid growth has prompted some European Union and Asian countries to move to ease visa application procedures for Chinese tourists in order to cash in on the big spenders.

France has announced fast-track two day visas for Chinese tourists starting later this month, while Thailand is to grant China visa-free entry status, according to media reports.

In the interview with Beijing Youth Daily, Huang added that the current lacklustre status of visa entry also stemmed from the longstanding reputation of China for its “large population base, relatively backwards economic development, and certain illegal immigration activities” which had been observed in the past.

A change of visa policy towards China from other countries often takes time because it involves multiple sectors such as customs and immigration, and sometimes even legislation, Huang explained.

“The situation can’t change overnight,” Huang said. “But we are sparing no effort in striving to ease the process for our citizens to ‘walk out’.”