China has announced issuance of all visa types will resume from March 15, marking an end to all cross-border controls introduced by the country as part of its pandemic response.
According to the official announcement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travellers entering Guangdong from Hong Kong and Macau will be allowed to do so without visas, as was the case prior to the pandemic. Visa-free entry to Hainan and visa-free entry of ships to Shanghai will also resume.
The announcement comes less than three months after the end of China’s three-year long zero-COVID strategy, which included daily PCR tests, strict quarantine requirements for those with positive test results, and rapidly enforced local lockdowns. The startling about-face in policy was a response to growing discontent at the length and severity of restrictions, giving rise to the first widespread anti-regime protests in a generation.
While domestic tourism has been thriving since the policy shift, China is not likely to witness an influx of foreign tourists after this latest announcement. A Chinese tourist industry insider quoted by Reuters said, “”In terms of tourism, China is no longer a hotspot destination”.
Global perceptions of China worsened sharply at the beginning of the pandemic and have continued to decline, as highlighted by more recent data from the Pew Research Center. The top 3 countries of origin for foreign tourists in China in 2018 were South Korea, Japan, and the United States. According to Pew’s 2022 data, the vast majority of respondents from these three countries said they had an unfavourable perception of China, at 80%, 87%, and 82% for South Korea, Japan, and the US respectively.
The top reason cited for respondents’ negative perceptions was China’s policies on human rights, with military power and economic competition taking second and third place.
No new COVID variants have emerged since China allowed its citizens to travel abroad, contrary to concerns voiced at the time.