China will reopen its borders to foreign tourists for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing all categories of visas to be issued from Wednesday, Reuters reported.
The lifting of this latest cross-border control measure imposed to protect against COVID-19 comes after authorities last month declared victory over the virus.
A huge influx of visitors is not expected in the short term or a significant boost to the economy. In 2019, international tourism revenue accounted for just 0.9% of China's gross domestic product.
But the resumption of tourist visas marks a new stage in normalizing two-way travel between China and the world after Beijing lifted mandatory quarantine on arrival and most restrictions on its citizens' overseas travel earlier this year.
Areas in China that did not require visas before the pandemic will return to visa-free entry, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. These are the southern tourist island of Hainan, a favorite destination among Russians, as well as cruise ships passing through the port of Shanghai.
Visa-free entry for foreigners from Hong Kong and Macau to China's most prosperous province of Guangdong will also be resumed, especially for high-end hotels popular with international business travelers.
Chinese events open to foreign visitors - such as the China Development Forum in Beijing later this month and the Shanghai Auto Show in April - will also resume. The Asian Games, held once every four years, will also be held in the eastern city of Hangzhou in September after being postponed last year due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
In a further easing of controls on outbound tourism, China has added 40 more countries to the list of countries where group tours are allowed. Thus, Chinese tourists will now be able to visit 60 countries, but Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States remain outside it, reports Reuters.
In 2022, only 115.7 million cross-border trips were made in and out of China, with foreigners accounting for about 4.5 million. Before COVID-19, China recorded a total of 670 million trips in 2019, of which 97.7 million were from foreigners visiting the country.