Thai Prime Minister Says Visa-Free Policy for Chinese Visitors to Be Made Permanent in March

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Thai Prime Minister Says Visa-Free Policy for Chinese Visitors to Be Made Permanent in March
Chinese tourists takes selfies with Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, right, on their arrivals at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Samut Prakarn Province, Thailand, 25 September. (Photo: AP/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand and China will soon implement visa-free entry for each other’s citizens, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said Tuesday.

Chinese nationals will be granted visa-free entry on a permanent basis beginning 1 March, Srettha said after his Cabinet’s weekly meeting. Chinese visitors have been allowed visa-free entry since September last year, but the privilege was due to expire on 29 February.

Thailand’s visa-exemption policy aims to give a boost to the country’s tourism industry, which was badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic. The country received about 40 million visitors in 2019, and the government estimated they spent 1.9 trillion baht (USD 53.2 billion) — an amount that plummeted by more than 99 percent by 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

China is a major source of tourists to Thailand, with almost 11 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 27.6 percent of all arrivals that year before the pandemic devastated the tourist market.

Last year, Thailand saw 28 million foreign tourist arrivals, including 3.4 million from China. Chinese visitors ranked second to Malaysia, which accounted for about 4.4 million visitors.

Tuesday’s decision to grant Chinese citizens permanent visa-free privileges was made after negotiations between Bangkok and Beijing, Srettha said. He said China agreed to extend visa-free entry to Thai visitors in exchange for allowing Chinese nationals the permanent visa exemption.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China welcomed the Thai move, saying it was in the fundamental interest of the two countries.

“The competent authorities of both sides are currently in close communication on the specific matter, and we look forward to the relevant arrangements coming into effect as soon as possible,” he said.

According to the Bangkok Post online, Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said he will travel to China by early February to sign the agreement for mutual visa-free entry.

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Associated Press