BEIJING (AP) — China announced Friday that it will allow visa-free entry for citizens of five European countries and Malaysia as it tries to encourage more people to visit for business and tourism.
Starting on 1 December, citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia will be allowed to enter China for up to 15 days without a visa. The trial program will be in effect for one year.
The aim is “to facilitate the high-quality development of Chinese and foreign personnel exchanges and high-level opening up to the outside world,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing.
China’s strict pandemic measures, which included required quarantines for all arrivals, discouraged many people from visiting for nearly three years. The restrictions were lifted early this year, but international travel has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.
China previously allowed citizens of Brunei, Japan, and Singapore to enter without a visa but suspended that after the COVID-19 outbreak. It resumed visa-free entry for Brunei and Singapore in July but has not done so for Japan.
In the first six months of the year, China recorded 8.4 million entries and exits by foreigners, according to immigration statistics. That compares to 977 million for all of 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who was in Beijing for talks, welcomed the Chinese announcement and said France has decided in return to allow Chinese students who earn master’s degrees in France to stay in the country for five more years “to facilitate exchanges.”
The EU Chamber of Commerce in China expressed hope that more European nations would be given visa-free access soon. In a statement, it called the move “a tangible and practical improvement, which will also increase business confidence.”
The Chinese government has been seeking foreign investment to help boost a sluggish economy, and some businesspeople have been coming for trade fairs and meetings, including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Apple’s Tim Cook. Foreign tourists are still a rare sight compared to before the pandemic.