China has expanded its visa-free policy for Hainan beyond tourism to various travel purposes as it seeks to transform the southern island into a major free-trade port. Passport holders from 59 countries are now allowed to enter Hainan for business, family visits, medical treatment, exhibitions and sporting events – as well as tourism – for up to 30 days without a visa. Foreigners wanting to work long term or study there will still need a visa. It follows an announcement in October that travelers from the 59 countries did not need a visa to visit the island with a travel agency, upon invitation by an entity or as individuals. In addition to the 27 European Union member states, the list includes Iceland, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and Britain as well as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In Asia, the visa-free arrangements apply to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei. Australia and New Zealand are also on the list along with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United States.
The NIA said the move “is a new effort to deepen reform and opening-up of the province, and contribute to the development of Hainan as a free-trade port with Chinese characteristics”. Hainan’s economy grew 9.2% last year, the second fastest in the country after Tibet. Its economic recovery has been driven by the revival of tourism, with more than 90 million tourists visiting the island last year, an increase of nearly 50% year-on-year. Hainan’s tourism revenue also rose 72% to CNY181.3 billion. China aims to develop Hainan into the world’s biggest free-trade port, with an independent customs regime set up by the end of next year. The tropical island is about the size of Taiwan and is seeking to attract investors, businesses and individuals with reduced taxes and relaxed visa regulations. The country hopes to turn Hainan into a hub for offshore financing and duty-free shopping, bringing it on par with the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore, the South China Morning Post reports.