A Liberal Democratic Party panel came up with a proposal Friday to expand the number of visas it gives to Chinese tour groups.

The panel on tourism promotion will formally submit its proposal to the government early next week, panel members said.

Currently, Japan issues visas only to tour groups from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong provinces. No individual tourist is granted a visa.

The panel proposed expanding the areas to include the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shangdon, and Liaoning, as well as the city of Tianjin, as demanded by the Chinese government.

If the expansion works well in these five places, then the government may take further steps to allow more tourists from throughout the country, the panel said.

The proposal was announced a week earlier than planned in response to an instruction issued Thursday by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who ordered three ministries and the National Police Agency to confer with Chinese authorities about expanding visa issuances.

The three ministries are the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry. While the proposal stresses the importance of attracting more tourists from China, it also places great importance on stemming the flow of illegal entrants.

The panel recommends the Chinese government take such measures as introducing tougher screening procedures for passport issuance and applying stricter penalties to Chinese travel agencies that fail prevent their customers from disappearing.

Some LDP lawmakers say that Japan’s lax screening process for issuing student and working visas has led to a rise in illegal entrants, such as those who use phony immigration documents, and Chinese nationals who overstay their visas. Some of the panel members say that the number of working and student visas — rather than tourist visas — should be restricted.

The government launched its “Visit Japan” campaign last year with the aim of doubling the number of foreign visitors by 2010. China is viewed as one of the countries most critical for attaining that goal. The LDP hopes the Japanese and Chinese governments will reach an agreement on the visa-expansion issue by autumn.

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