China announced on Wednesday that it has successfully negotiated a comprehensive mutual visa cooperation agreement with 23 countries, including the Maldives. This development aligns with the efforts of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu to attract more Chinese tourists to the Indian Ocean island nation. Beijing is actively working towards establishing either visa-free arrangements or liberalizing visa procedures with various countries, aiming to bolster international tourism to China and facilitate freer travel for its citizens abroad.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, China's visa-free "circle of friends" is expanding, and numerous countries have officially entered the "visa-free era." He highlighted that China has already concluded mutual visa exemption agreements for different passports with 157 countries. Additionally, the country has reached agreements or arrangements on simplified visa procedures with 44 nations and has achieved comprehensive mutual visa cooperation with 23 countries, including Thailand, Singapore, Maldives, and the United Arab Emirates.
The mention of the Maldives is particularly noteworthy as President Muizzu, perceived as a pro-China leader, recently urged Beijing to increase the number of Chinese tourists visiting his country. This move comes amid a diplomatic dispute with India, a major tourism market for the Maldives.
Official figures from the Maldives Tourism Ministry reveal that India remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023. However, the data also indicates a decline in Indian tourists, with Russia topping the chart followed by Italy and China. China, once the leading source of tourists for the Maldives before the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently working to revive both its domestic and foreign tourism, facing challenges due to stringent policies and economic slowdown.
Wang emphasized that over 60 countries and regions now offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival conveniences to Chinese citizens. These measures aim to make international travel more convenient for Chinese citizens, enhancing the appeal of Chinese passports globally. The initiatives have also been well-received by the international community, providing increased convenience for foreigners to travel, work, study, and reside in China.
(With Agency Inputs)