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EU countries should remove visa barriers

Updated: 2014-10-19 12:56
By Fu Jing (China Daily Europe)

Nations seeking investment from China, their 'strategic partner', should eliminate roadblocks

With my passport and filled in landing card, I proceeded to immigration control at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow, where I handed them over to the officer on duty. She was about to check the visa pages of my passport, but I told her that mine is a "an official" kind, and thus there was no need for me to apply for a visa. Not waiting for my further explanation, she said "I know", stamped my documents and let me through.

Holding this passport issued by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have reported from Libya, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt in previous years and it has opened their doors to my short stays without me needing to apply for a visa.

Since late April, Chinese and Russians who hold such passports are allowed to stay in each other's country without a visa for a maximum of 30 days.

In September 2013, before I flew from Brussels, where I am based, to Moscow and St. Petersburg to report on the G20 summit, which President Xi Jinping was attending, I went through quite an annoyingly complicated visa application process.

But since relations between Beijing and Moscow have become closer, the procedure has quickened and been simplified, which is a positive step for China and Russia to deepen cooperation.

While Premier Li Keqiang and his ministers were said to have had fruitful consultations with their German counterparts in Berlin during his visit that began on Oct 9. Among the many outcomes, one that hit the headlines was Germany's greater flexibility in allowing Chinese businesspeople and tourists to enter Germany more easily by offering more visa application convenience.

While focusing on more business and cultural exchanges, the premier has long been making efforts to make it easier for Chinese to travel to Europe. He requested an easier visa process when he visited the United Kingdom and Greece in June. And on the last leg of his current trip to Europe, Li planned to put "fast track" visa applications on agenda in Italy as well.

If one looks back at the rounds of talks between Chinese and European leaders in previous years, China has long requested relaxed visa controls from European countries.

This sharply contrasts with the fact that China's diplomatic ties with many European countries are about 50 years old and they have called Beijing a "strategic partner" for about a decade. While in recent years, Chinese investments have started to soar in Europe amid economic recession and stagnation in many European countries, which have forced European politicians and businesses to seek partnerships with Chinese input to generate more jobs.

But the reality is that China needs the barriers removed and the doors to be opened first before such discussions can produce results. Li has been making efforts to accomplish this country by country.

Some may ask: Why do some European countries hesitate to remove visa barriers against Chinese investors?

The reasons vary. Many European countries, following the lead of the United States, are unwilling to treat a rising and powerful China as a true partner on ideological grounds. Even though their businesses need a fresh injection of vitality from China, some hesitate to relax visa rules and grant investment opportunities.

And some countries even use their visa policy as a means of leverage when dealing with China on other issues.

Such reasons do not match the beautiful sounding "comprehensive strategic partnership" they say they are forging with China.

However, Europe's gloomy reality has forced countries to take radical and accelerated steps to cut such red tape in the hope of attracting more Chinese business and investment.

Some have moved faster than others, and in Central and Eastern Europe some countries have begun to implement a visa-free policy similar to that between China and Russia, in addition to their friendly measures toward business, tourists and students.

Now, even advanced economies such as the UK, Belgium and France have decided to speed up the visa process for Chinese.

For real strategic partners, freer movement should be granted without such negotiation. And for fruitful cooperation, it is about knocking on and opening the door at the same time. China has done that for years.

Now that China is proposing to connect Asia and Europe, if they are true strategic partners, Brussels and other European capitals should match their ambitious words with action, and think about ways to promote that connection. One of the ways is to remove the visa hurdles.

The author is China Daily's chief correspondent in Brussels. Email: fujing@chinadaily.com.cn

 

 

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