China and Switzerland are set to upgrade their free trade agreement, streamline visa procedures, and enhance bilateral relations following a high-level meeting, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier Li Qiang led the Chinese delegation, receiving a warm welcome from Swiss President Viola Amherd.
China, Switzerland Strengthen Trade, Visa Relations in High-Level Meeting
Heading the Chinese delegation was Premier Li Qiang, who received a warm welcome upon his arrival at Zurich airport. The meeting took place at the Lohn Estate near Bern and marked a significant visit by the highest-ranking Chinese representative to Switzerland since President Xi Jinping's visit in 2017.
Swiss President and Defence Minister Viola Amherd greeted Premier Li Qiang, emphasizing the importance of the visit. The meeting also involved Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, among others.
According to the Manila Bulletin, the discussions covered a wide range of bilateral relations, including approximately 30 issues and current international affairs. Both countries also discussed the planned resumption of dialogue between their foreign ministries, addressing topics such as development cooperation and human rights.
China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia since 2010 and ranks as its third most significant global trading partner, following the European Union and the United States. Both countries signed a joint declaration, seen as a significant step towards potential negotiations to develop their free trade agreement further.
As part of their agreements, China will grant visa-free entry to Swiss citizens, while Switzerland will facilitate visas for Chinese citizens and Chinese enterprises investing in Switzerland. Future strategic talks on finance, energy, education policy, and consultations on UN Security Council affairs are also planned for the coming year.
China Eases Entry Rules for Foreign Visitors
China has introduced a set of measures to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals for various purposes, including business, education, and tourism. The National Immigration Administration (NIA) recently unveiled revised rules aimed at simplifying visa processes, expanding visa-on-arrival eligibility, and promoting international travel.
Liu Haitao, the NIA's deputy director, stated that these measures are designed to eliminate obstacles for foreigners traveling to China for business, education, and tourism. Nikkei Asia reported that the goal is to promote people-to-people exchanges and contribute to global economic recovery.
Since reopening its borders at the beginning of 2023 after a three-year period of strict COVID-19 restrictions, China has been actively encouraging cross-border travel. In November, a one-year visa-free trial was announced for visitors from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. Additionally, China recently signed a bilateral agreement with Thailand to waive visa requirements for travelers from both countries.
These relaxed entry rules have resulted in a significant increase in inbound travelers, a vital factor in reviving the country's economy. During the New Year holiday in January, China recorded over 1.72 million inbound and outbound trips daily, nearly six times the number from the previous year, and similar to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to the NIA.
The latest measures expand the eligibility for on-arrival visas to include almost all travelers with urgent reasons to visit China, such as for business, family, or personal matters. Previously, this policy was limited to business travelers and saw a 166% year-on-year increase in business visa issuances at border ports during the first month of its introduction in August.
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