The Chinese government on Friday said it would welcome any move to liberalise the current limits on business and tourism travel between India and China, with both sides currently negotiating a proposal to relax the visa regime ahead of next week's visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the relaxation of visa restrictions would be "conducive to promoting personnel exchanges, and economic and trade cooperation".
"China welcomes this gesture," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.
"During Prime Minister Singh's visit [which begins in Beijing on Tuesday] the two sides will sign a series of bilateral cooperation agreements covering a wide range of areas," Ms. Hua added. "As for the details, the two sides are in close communication".
There is still some uncertainty on whether both sides will be able to finalise a move to liberalise visa procedures before Dr. Singh's arrival in Beijing. Media reports in India on Friday said it was, as yet, unclear whether the Cabinet had given its approval to the moves, which include: extending the validity for business visas, removing restrictions on reapplication of tourist visas, and imposing a one-month time-frame for Home Ministry clearance for applications.
With increasing movement of people between both countries particularly for business, visa restrictions on travel to India have recently emerged as a source of much irritation in China, especially among businesspeople here who often complain of long delays because of clearances needed from the Home Ministry.
One Chinese business executive who frequently travels to oversee projects in India, Japan and a number of Southeast Asian countries said in a recent interview with The Hindu that the application process for India "was the most troublesome of any country I have travelled to". Long delays in issuing the visa, he said, were routine. Officials had told him that the reason was delays in obtaining clearances from the Home Ministry.
On the tourism front too, many travel agencies in China say one reason for the poor outflow to India - even as millions of Chinese tourists are heading to other destinations in Asia - is the difficulty in applying for visas. Travellers have to put up a 10,000 Yuan (Rs. 1 lakh) deposit, and cannot reapply for visas for a two-month period after travel. Doing away with the latter restriction is one of the proposed changes that have been under discussion, although the deposit is seen by agents as the bigger obstacle.
"If we can sign a deal," Ms. Hua said, "we welcome this agreement. Relevant parties are in close communication, but whether the two sides will sign the agreement, I cannot provide details now. We will pay close attention to the progress of this relevant issue".
Dr. Singh will arrive in Beijing on Tuesday, after completing a visit to Moscow. On Wednesday, he will hold talks with top Chinese leaders. He is expected to meet President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, and Zhang Dejiang, the third-ranked leader after Mr. Xi and Mr. Li on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the elite ruling inner circle.
Dr. Singh's visit coincides with those of the Russian and Mongolian Prime Ministers to Beijing. Ms. Hua told reporters there was "no need to over interpret" the curious timing of the overlapping visits, adding that all three visits were "settled by two sides" on "a date mutually convenient".
The centrepiece of Dr. Singh's visit is likely to be the formal signing of a long-discussed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which, officials say, will build upon and consolidate earlier confidence building measures.
Trade is expected to receive prominent attention, with the India-China CEO's forum also scheduled to hold its second meeting next week. The agreements next week, Ms. Hua said, would take forward the consensus reached by both countries during the Chinese Premier's May visit to New Delhi.
One particular issue Ms. Hua highlighted was a proposal put forward in May to take forward building a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. "The two sides proposed the BCIM economic corridor to strengthen investment, trade, infrastructure, other areas of cooperation such as industrial parks and to start negotiations on a regional trade agreement," she said.
"The aim is to complement the two economies," she added. "This is of great significance as we can link South Asia and East Asia. This will be conducive to regional connectivity, so we are in close communication with the Indian side and other relevant parties."