China has signed a flurry of visa-exempt entry agreements in the past few years. In total, China currently has over 20 visa-exempt entry agreements but all of them were only finalized in the last five years save one, San Marino in 1985. Most of these nations are small island nations in the Caribbean and Oceania.
However, China has a visa-exempt agreement with at least one major nation: Indonesia. The list also includes the North African countries of Morocco and Tunisia, and Chinese citizens can also enter Serbia and Ecuador without visas.
In 2017, China finalized visa-exempt entry agreements with Serbia, Tunisia, and Barbados.
For smaller island nations, signing a visa-exempt agreement with China often comes with substantial incentives, not the least of which is the prospect of large numbers of Chinese tourists and tourist dollars. For example, when Antigua and Barbuda signed such an agreement with China in 2014, the nation received a US$4.8 million interest-free loan, US$3 million of equipment and technical support to help tackle climate change, and financing for the Deep Water Habour Development Project. The project includes tourist facilities like a cruise ship section, hotel, and a museum.
These visa-exempt entry agreements can be considered as part of the Chinese government’s efforts to utilize tourism as a foreign policy tool to curry influence in bilateral relations and in international organizations. The Antigua and Barbuda agreement came with a promise that the small nation would support Chinese efforts to reform the UN Security Council.
While tourism is not necessarily the primary goal of these agreements, such policies have succeeded in attracting large numbers of Chinese tourists. Perhaps the most notable example has been in South Korea. Chinese citizens cannot enter South Korea proper visa-free but can land on Jeju Island without a visa. The island has seen a dramatic rise in the number of Chinese tourists in recent years as well as dramatic, sometimes violent, incidents between Chinese tourists and locals.
For those in the hospitality and tourism industries, these agreements could also lead to a similar spike in Chinese tourism. While visa fees are not necessarily expensive, easier access and a lower price tag could attract more lower or middle-income Chinese tourists. Indonesia, in particular, appears to be well-placed to take advantage of their visa-exempt entry agreement, as Indonesia is a relatively cheap country to travel to from China and local prices are quite low. Of course, Indonesia also has a wide range of higher-end accommodation and travel options.
Other potential beneficiaries are more traditional, high-end tropical travel experiences, including Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Jamaica, Barbados, and the Bahamas. As Chinese outbound tourism grows and demand for high-end luxury factions with it, these nations may be best suited to attract high-income Chinese tourists.