India and China may roll out visa on arrival
Diplomatic sources say if Chinese citizens are granted VoA a reciprocal gesture would be offered to India in time for Modi's trip.
NEW DELHI: Indians could soon join the same queue as passport holders from Singapore, Brunei and Japan when they land in Beijing or Shanghai. Citizens of these countries are currently eligible for visas on arrival in China. India may become the next, overturning decades of mistrust between the two that's been punctuated by a war and regular skirmishes.
Given the nature of a relationship that tends to veer from economic bonhomie to diplomatic distrust, such moves by the two most populous countries in the world would be seen as a great leap of sorts ahead of Narendra Modi's visit to Beijing in May. But various obstacles need to be overcome for this to become possible, including who makes the first move and how such an initiative would sit with the security agencies and the defence establishment.
The Indian embassy in Beijing has pitched for visa on arrival (VoA) facilities for Chinese tourists and sought a relaxation of security restrictions to ensure greater investment from that country to strengthen ties marked by an unresolved boundary and both sides competing for resources and influence across the world. India is widening the number of countries on the VoA list to 150 from 43 in phases, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced in his February 28 Budget speech.
Diplomatic sources are hopeful that if China is included in the first phase of this move in the next two months, a reciprocal gesture from the neighbouring nation could follow suit in time for Modi's trip.
The above plan relates to tourists on short-term visits. With economic prosperity and rising levels of income, Chinese tourists are big spenders, but India has seen relatively few of them. China got around 6.8 lakh tourists from India in 2013, while 1.75 lakh made the reverse journey. Incidentally, China is currently celebrating a 'Visit India Year 2015'. India will have a 'Visit China Year' in 2016 to boost tourism and peopleto-people contact.
The Chinese embassy in Delhi did not respond to a query by ET on the matter. But Chinese government sources recalled that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on visa liberalisation that was on the cards during President Xi Jinping's trip last September had been deferred and they are waiting to see if this can be finalised during Modi's visit.
The pact was to have been concluded during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to India in May 2013 and later during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's trip to Beijing in October that year but an accord remained elusive.
Industry and officials said India needs to relax the visa regime to get more investment and tourists from China, something the Indian ambassador to China, Ashok Kantha, is also understood to have suggested. Apart from covering tourists, he's said to have mooted an easier visa regime for conferences and business trips. Key government ministries and security agencies have held internal meetings in the past two months on granting VoA facilities for Chinese tourists, officials said.
Security agencies not too Keen India's security establishment, however, is not too enthusiastic about a liberal visa regime for Chinese nationals with some agencies raising concerns about espionage.
Apart from wanting the Chinese to reciprocate on VoA, India will also be looking for a scrapping of stapled visas for residents of Arunachal Pradesh, sources said. Such stapled visas won't be allowed under the VoA facility.
Claims over Arunachal Pradesh or at least Tawang tract are at the core of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute and the Chinese foreign ministry reacted sharply to a recent visit by Modi to Arunachal Pradesh.
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