To the cheers from the audience of students at Tsinghua University here, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday that India has decided to “extend electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals.”
The announcement was anticipated for some weeks, and The Hindu had reported last month on the Chinese government’s repeated requests to India to cut some of the security and visa regulations for Chinese businessmen and tourists.
The Prime Minister said it was part of a concerted effort by his government to bring the “world’s two largest populations in closer contact.” “Thirty-three per cent of the world is either Indian or Chinese, and yet we know so little about each other,” he said.
The e-visa facility would enable Chinese applicants to apply for visas online a few days before they travel.
Accent on people-to-people
Shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Friday of the extension of e-visa facility for Chinese nationals, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had said that “no decision” had been taken on the issue yet, leading to speculation that Mr. Modi had overruled objections within the security establishment to announce the move.
Building on the theme of closer contact between populations, among the 24 agreements signed after the official meetings, at least 13 MoUs mention strengthening “people-to-people ties,” including the “sister-city” relationships between Hyderabad and Qingdao and Aurangabad and Dunhuang, while setting up consulates in Chengdu and Chennai, and building ties between India and yoga colleges in Kunming and Yunnan.
The e-visa announcement will boost an MoU on tourism cooperation, as 2015 and 2016 have been designated ‘Visit India’ and ‘Visit China’ years respectively, given that Chinese tourists to India now number less than two lakh a year.
Another MoU between Doordarshan and China’s state-run CCTV raised eyebrows in the wake of controversies over CCTV’s depiction of the Indian map without Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh in it.
Speaking exclusively to The Hindu, Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar, who was in Beijing for the signing ceremony, said the MoU would help to avoid similar situations in future. “If we want to ease the political situation between the two countries, we would have to know more about each other, and so we hope to exchange programmes, launch co-production of television series, and have personnel exchanges between the two broadcasters,” he said.
Echoing this belief are hundreds of Indians who have moved in recent years to work in Beijing and other Chinese cities. CCTV International itself now has about six Indians working in its newsroom, including Vikram Gopinath, who says, unlike other international channels, CCTV is not dominated by British or American employees. He told The Hindu, however, that news from India is often based on reports from other channels, and there should be direct exchanges. After the Nirbhaya case, and several cases of tourist rapes in India in particular, he said many here are scared to go to India, he said. “If you want to increase tourism, you have to correct the impression through media exchanges.”