Derision over China official's visa 'discrimination' claim

A family walks in Beijing's international airport, on Jan 9, 2014. A top Chinese official's claim that the country's citizens are discriminated against in visa arrangements worldwide prompted widespread online derision Thursday, Jan 16, 2014, with po
A family walks in Beijing's international airport, on Jan 9, 2014. A top Chinese official's claim that the country's citizens are discriminated against in visa arrangements worldwide prompted widespread online derision Thursday, Jan 16, 2014, with posters arguing Beijing's own policies were to blame. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - A top Chinese official's claim that the country's citizens are discriminated against in visa arrangements worldwide prompted widespread online derision Thursday, with posters arguing Beijing's own policies were to blame.

Huang Ping, director-general of the foreign ministry's consular department, told the state-run Beijing Youth Daily that those seeking to travel abroad on Chinese passports "certainly face some inconveniences".

"Some countries view Chinese people 'through coloured glasses' and don't welcome us due to ideological reasons," Mr Huang told the paper in an interview published Wednesday.

Countries had a "prevent and control" attitude toward Chinese people, implemented through visa policies "requiring many application materials, a stringent review and a cumbersome procedure", he said.

Only 44 countries currently grant either visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Chinese tourists, according to the immigration consultancy Henley & Partners.

But China itself only grants visa-free access to citizens of seven mostly small countries - the Bahamas, Brunei, Mauritius, San Marino, the Seychelles, Singapore, and Japan. It also has a scheme giving transit passengers from 45 countries visas on arrival - but only for 72 hours, limited to the city or province in which they land, and provided they have a ticket to a third country.

Chinese Internet users criticised Mr Huang's comments.

"The visa-free policy is a reciprocal one," one user wrote on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter. "First you have to let go of your 'prevent and control' policy toward foreigners entering China, and don't dare to push the blame on other countries." Another pointed out that Chinese citizens need travel permits to journey abroad, and even to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, saying: "Don't blame foreigners for 'looking down' on you. We're looking down on ourselves." A third responded: "The reason we're not welcomed isn't because of 'coloured glasses', it's because jerks like you are not trying at all."

According to Henley & Partners, holders of US, Japanese, French and UK passports can travel as tourists to more than 170 countries visa-free.

Chinese tourists spent US$102 billion (S$ 127 billion) overseas in 2012, making them the world's biggest spenders and a highly-coveted market.

Even so in an editorial on Thursday, the state-run Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, wrote that "developed countries refusing to give China visa-free treatment shows China's real image in their eyes".

"It also represents how much trust and respect they want to pay to China," the paper wrote. "China's dramatic GDP growth does not equate to convenience for Chinese nationals who would like to go abroad."

On a visit to Paris last year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged to pursue more visa waiver agreements - prompting Taiwanese Vice President Wu Den-yih to quip that an unnamed "so-called big country" received visa-free treatment from "only 20 nations", the South China Morning Post reported.

Mr Wu added that 134 countries grant Taiwanese passport holders visa-free access.

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