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Following Years of Restrictions, China Reopens Borders to Foreigners

Xi Jinping of China

With a significant loosening of travel restrictions put in place since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, China will once more begin granting a variety of visas to foreigners as of Wednesday, the nation’s foreign ministry announced.

Beijing abandons the rigorous zero-Covid stance that governed its pandemic response until a few months ago, marking the latest step toward closing China to the outside world.

A message published on a social media account connected to the foreign ministry’s consular affairs office on Tuesday stated that in addition to new visas being evaluated and accepted, those issued before March 28, 2020 that are still valid will once again permit admission to China.

Similar announcements could be found on the websites of a number of Chinese diplomatic missions abroad, including those in France and the United States.

The revised policy will also permit the resume of visa-free travel for individuals arriving in Shanghai on cruise ships as well as for specific tourist groups from Hong Kong, Macau, and nations in the ASEAN regional grouping, according to the notification.

It was further said that the action will “further ease the exchange of Chinese and international personnel”.

Prior to cutting itself off from the rest of the world during the pandemic, China welcomed 65.7 million foreign tourists in 2019, according to data from the UN World Tourism Organization.

While most countries started fully expanding their economies and accepting international travellers earlier, China finally began emerging from its rigorous Covid-19 containment strategy in late 2022, when rare demonstrations against President Xi Jinping’s trademark program broke out across the country.

Late November rallies turned into demands for greater political freedoms, with some even demanding for Xi to step down. This marked the broadest rejection of communist government since the Tiananmen Square upheaval in 1989.

Abrupt reversal

Early in December, Chinese authorities effectively ceased the practice of lengthy quarantines, lockdowns, and mass testing; yet, the rapid change in policy resulted in an increase in Covid cases.

Beijing declared in late December that foreign visitors will still be subject to visa requirements after January 8 but would no longer be required to undergo quarantine.

Beijing pledged to “continue to change its visa policies for overseas visitors to China in a scientific and dynamic manner in accordance with… the pandemic scenario” at the time.

The issuance of Chinese passports for “tourism” or “friends’ international visits” also resumed at that point.

A tit-for-tat response from Beijing was prompted by many nations, most notably Japan and South Korea, who reimposed restrictions on Chinese travelers as cases spiked in China around the New Year.

Both parties eventually loosened those limitations as cases decreased in China.

Following a crucial meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament, when Xi was unanimously elected to a third term as president and his close buddy Li Qiang was made premier, China announced that it will resume issuing visas to foreigners.

Li said on Monday that reaching the goal of “about 5%” for the nation’s economic development would not be an easy assignment.

While the economy struggled under the dual effects of stringent Covid regulations and a housing crisis, China’s GDP grew by just 3% last year, far short of its declared aim of approximately 5.5%.

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