- It wasn’t until late 2022 that China began to emerge from its strict containment policy against the spread of COVID-19.
- The updated policy will also allow visa-free travel to resume for those arriving on cruise ships.
- In late December, Beijing announced that incoming travelers would no longer need to be quarantined.
China will again begin issuing a range of visas to foreigners from Wednesday, the country’s embassy in Washington said in a major easing of travel restrictions in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move marks the latest step in opening up China to the outside world as Beijing is phasing out the strict zero-spread strategy that until months ago determined its response to the pandemic.
In addition to reviewing and approving new travel documents, visas issued before March 28, 2020, which are still valid, will again allow entry into China, an embassy notice released on Monday, translated from Chinese by AFP, said.
The updated policy will also allow visa-free travel to resume for those arriving on cruise ships in Shanghai, as well as for certain travel groups from Hong Kong, Macau and ASEAN countries, the notice said.
China welcomed 65.7 million foreign tourists in 2019, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, before the pandemic led the country to isolate itself from the rest of the world.
While most other countries began to fully open their economies and welcome foreign travelers earlier, China only began to abandon its strict COVID containment policy in late 2022, after rare demonstrations erupted across the country against President Xi Jinping’s signature strategy to combat with COVID-19.
Those protests in late November escalated into calls for more political freedoms, with some even calling for Mr Xi to step down, turning into the most massive opposition to communist rule since the 1989 democratic uprising crushed by the military.
In early December, the Chinese authorities effectively lifted the regime of mass testing, lockdown and long-term quarantine, but the abrupt change led to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases.
In late December, Beijing announced that travelers arriving in the country would no longer need to be quarantined starting January 8, but visa restrictions for foreigners would remain.
At the time, Beijing said it would “continue to adjust its visa policy for foreigners visiting China in a scientific and dynamic manner in line with … the epidemic situation.”
He then also resumed issuing Chinese passports for “tourism” or “friends’ visits abroad.”
With cases rising in China ahead of the New Year, several countries, notably Japan and South Korea, reintroduced restrictions on Chinese visitors, provoking retaliation as Beijing imposed its own restrictions.
As affairs in China faltered, both sides subsequently relaxed those restrictions.
The announcement that China will resume issuing visas to foreigners comes after the country’s parliament concluded a major session in Beijing, during which Mr Xi was confirmed for a third term as president and close ally Li Qiang became prime minister. .
Mr Li acknowledged on Monday that meeting the country’s economic growth target of “about five percent” would be “no easy task.”
Last year, China posted growth of just 3 percent, well off its stated target of about 5.5 percent, as the economy was strained by the dual impact of the tough COVID policy and the property crisis.