Japan and China have reached an agreement to expand the scope of visa issuance for Chinese tour groups visiting Japan, government officials said Friday.
Prospective visitors from the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Liaoning and Hangsu as well as the city of Tianjin will be included in the expanded visa-issuance scheme, which will take effect within a month or two.
Currently, Japan only issues tourist visas to tour groups from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province. No individual tourists are granted visas except those who have relatives in Japan.
The visas are selectively issued to tourists from these cities and provinces, given their relative economic prosperity. Japan has cited concerns that tourists from poorer parts of China might disappear from the tour groups and stay in Japan illegally after arriving here.
If the expansion plan does not result in any problems, Japan might take further steps to allow tourists from other parts of China, Foreign Ministry official Teruhiko Shinada said.
“We have been working to attract foreign tourists to Japan under the Visit Japan campaign, and we hope the step will have a major impact in this regard,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.
The government launched the campaign in fiscal 2003 to double the number of foreign visitors by 2010. China is seen as a potential major source of tourists.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered relevant bodies — including the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry and National Police Agency — to negotiate with Chinese authorities on the visa-expansion issue.
The combined population of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province totals more than 100 million. According to government data, about 30,000 Chinese visited Japan from these three cities and the province in 2003.
About 260 million people live in the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Hangsu and the city of Tianjin, prompting the Japanese government to expect a three-fold increase in the number of tourists from China.
The tourism industry has also been urging the government to ease visa requirements for Chinese nationals, foreseeing enormous business opportunities.
“We hope that (the easing of visa restrictions) will further stimulate demand as the number of international passengers is showing a gradual recovery after it plunged due to the outbreak of SARS,” said Fumitake Tsukamoto, an official at Japan Airlines International Co.
The tourism industry suffered a huge loss in fiscal 2003 due to the war in Iraq and the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic.