China resumed issuing tourist visas to most foreigners yesterday, almost three years after closing its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unexpired visas issued before March 28, 2020, are now valid again, and the new policy also allows for the resumption of some visa-free travel options. While business travellers have been allowed in China since January 8, welcoming other types of travellers is a significant step in the country’s reopening.
Barriers remain to people-to-people re-engagement
While China’s embassies and consulates around the world begin reissuing visas, many have argued that what is now needed to revitalize people-to-people links is more frequent flights and affordable airfare to and from China. For example, during the pandemic, civil aviation authorities in both the U.S. and China capped the number of direct flights between both countries. These restrictions are still active today, limiting the options for re-engagement.
A small but good step
The harsh and lengthy travel restrictions imposed by China beginning in March 2020 significantly impacted people-to-people ties between China and the rest of the world. They were even seen as the “final nail in the coffin” for exchanges between the U.S. and China. The trade war, launched in 2018, in addition to several other policies, had hindered bilateral relations. Whether or not the full resumption of people-to-people exchanges will soothe bilateral relations remains to be seen, but more work is necessary to foster these exchanges. Reopening borders, for now, is a welcome step in the right direction.