Yu Hong, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a senior research fellow of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
On January 28, 2024, the Chinese and Thai governments signed a mutual visa exemption agreement in Bangkok, Thailand. This agreement will enter into force on March 1, 2024. Under this agreement, citizens of the two countries can travel back and forth without a visa, and are allowed to stay for up to 30 days.
The mutual visa exemption between China and Thailand will promote people-to-people exchanges, and it is also very good news for the tourism industry of both sides. The mutual visa exemption will greatly stimulate cross-border travel demand among tourists, and will undoubtedly inject more powerful impetus into the economic development for both countries.
After signing the agreement, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said that “This visa-free era will bring people-to-people exchanges to a new height. There will be a big increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand.” It is estimated that 8 million Chinese tourists will travel to Thailand in 2024.
Thailand has always been a popular destination for Chinese tourists when traveling abroad for holidays, and as soon as the news of the mutual visa exemption was released, the number of searches related to destination Thailand on China’s travel platforms increased significantly. For example, after the news was announced, searches for Thailand-related keywords on the Ctrip platform increased more than 7 times compared with the previous day, with air tickets and hotel bookings increasing by more than 6 times compared with the previous day.
Many Thai people have a strong desire to visit China as well. Young Thai people are very receptive to Chinese food, while Chinese literature, soap operas and films are also quite popular in Thailand. In the past, the process of applying for a visa to China was quite complicated, and visa fees were not cheap, so it is expected that carrying out business, visiting exhibitions, travel and other activities in China will become more convenient for Thai people from all walks of life after the implementation of the mutual visa exemption policy in March this year.
Tourism is an important source of revenue for Thailand, and the recovery of tourism will be good for the Thai economy. In 2023, most of the foreign tourists entering Thailand came from Asia. Malaysia was the largest source of foreign tourists, with about 4.5 million arrivals, followed by China with 3.5 million.
In their tourism development plan for 2024, the Thai authorities set the target of receiving 35 million foreign tourists.They hope to increase the total revenue from the tourism industry from the original 3 trillion baht ($84.3 billion) to 3.5 trillion baht. To achieve these goals, the Thai government is working to improve its tourism infrastructure and make Thailand a safe and attractive tourist destination.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has attached great importance to the role of Chinese tourists in the Thai economy. He once described the process of applying for visas for Chinese tourists to Thailand as cumbersome and the fees as high, therefore not conducive to the recovery of the Thai tourism sector. Srettha personally greeted the first batch of Chinese tourists at Bangkok airport after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The implementation of the mutual visa waiver arrangement will also help to further enhance Sino-Thai relations. China has been Thailand’s largest trading partner for the past 10 years, with bilateral trade reaching $107 billion in 2022. China is the largest export destination for Thai agricultural products. More and more Thai rice, natural rubber, and various tropical fruits have entered the Chinese market.
China is also one of Thailand’s major sources of inward foreign investment. China has increased its investment in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor and the electric vehicle industry in recent years. Chinese investment has not only helped to boost the Thai economy and to promote green development, but has also expanded foreign market access for Chinese companies.
Since the second half of last year, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have successively announced mutual agreements with China on visa exemptions. On January 25, 2024, the Chinese and Singaporean governments signed the “Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Singapore on Mutual Visa Exemption for Holders of Ordinary Passports” in Beijing. The agreement will officially enter into force on February 9, 2024 (Eve of Chinese New Year).
For a long time, “travel to the three countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand” has been synonymous with Chinese outbound tourism, and these three countries received the first batches of Chinese citizens to travel abroad at their own expense under a scheme introduced in 1997, and have since then been popular destinations for outbound travel among Chinese tourists.
Chinese tourists have played an important role in the growth of the tourism industries of the ASEAN countries. ASEAN is a region of great interest for Chinese tourists, due to its diverse cultural diversity, unique scenery and geographical proximity to China.
The implementation of visa-free measures between China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand will not only be good for the respective countries’ tourism industries, but also for the promotion of bilateral economic and trade development between China and ASEAN.