Kazakhstan, China in talks on bilateral visa-free travel

© Global Times
Фото: © Global Times 11.05.2023 11:24 1700

Kazakhstan and China aim to introduce bilateral visa-free travel for up to 30 days. 

Therefore there is a fear that this agreement will open the door for massive immigration to the Central Asian country.

According to the draft resolution, published by the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan, citizens would stay up to 30 days from the moment of crossing borders. Tourists, who plan to stay more than a month, have to apply for a visa before entering the country. 

The resolution further clarifies that the maximum duration of the visitor’s visa-free stay is 90 days every 180 days.

This draft agreement increased fear on social media that visa-free travel will outnumber Chinese citizens in Kazakhstan. 

Some are concerned this will lead to job losses and create competition for local companies. Dozens of people protested for the document in Central Park, Almaty.

Yerkin Tukumov, director of The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies (KazISS) says, there are no reasons to worry about the flow of Chinese immigrants and job losses. He explains that the draft is dedicated to Kazakh citizens since visa-free travel opened for Chinese citizens last year.

‘Since the last June, we don’t see mass travel of Chinese citizens to Kazakhstan. 

The draft resolution allows Chinese and Kazakh citizens to stay up to 30 days without a visa for tourism, medical treatment, international transportation, transit, as well as business purposes. Meanwhile, it is prohibited to carry out labour or other paid activities in our country’, says Mr Tukumov.

Chinese soft power and its expansion to Central Asia concern local people. However, about 15 thousand foreign citizens are working in Kazakhstan. 3500 of them are from China, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of Kazakhstan. Mr.Tukumov inform that the last year 17,425 people immigrated to the country, 416 of them came from China.

‘Fear of visa-free travel leads to Chinese mass settlement to Kazakhstan is simply absurd. On the other hand, Chinese people are one of the most travelled nations. Pre-Covid pandemic, about 150 million Chinese tourists travelled to the World. Therefore, we should put pointless Sinophobia view away’, says Mr Tukumov.

Kazbek Maigeldinov, a member of the National Assembly, points out the benefits of visa-free travel for Kazakh citizens. He claims the draft if signed will boost economic activities between countries.

‘It is worth noting the benefits and priorities of introducing a visa-free regime for Kazakhstan with a giant country like China. First, Kazakhstan and China have established strategic relations as neighbouring countries. In addition, large economic projects are being implemented within the framework of the Road and Belt initiative. As a result, we completed the construction of the Western Europe – Western China highway. Direct investments were attracted. Infrastructure projects are being implemented’, says Mr Maigeldinov.
In 2022, trade between Kazakhstan and China amounted to $ 24,1 billion. It was more than 34 per cent than a year earlier. The export of Kazakhstan increased to $13,2 billion, this is 15,6% of the total trade turnover of the country.
‘The introduction of this visa-free regime will bring additional benefits to the citizens and business community of Kazakhstan. Because a one-way visa-free regime was introduced last year. Chinese citizens were allowed to enter for personal and business purposes for up to 14 days. 

Citizens of Kazakhstan needed a visa. Now bilateral mutual 30-day visa-free travel will be introduced. As a result, citizens of Kazakhstan do not collect as many documents to get a visa as before’, says Mr Maigeldinov.

Economist Aibar Oljaev sees the economic benefit of the visa-free travel regime. He points out the increase in Chinese imports to Kazakhstan. According to statistics, Russia was the main import partner of the Central Asian country.

‘Russia's share in Kazakhstan's imports was 43 per cent in 2021. By the end of 2022, it decreased to 35 per cent. This decline continues throughout the year, and by the end of 2023, Russia’s share will drop below 30 per cent. At the same time, if we look at Tradereport statistics, in 2021-2022, imports from China increased from 20 per cent to 26 per cent. This year, as our businessmen began to actively exchange technological goods from Russia to China, taking into account the possibility of the operation of the "Khorgas" centre in the second half of the year, it can be assumed that China will regain its status as the main importer by the end of this year’, says Mr Oljaev.

People's Daily Online, a Chinese state-run newspaper, claims that visa-free travel adopted the last year attracted more tourists. According to the newspaper, more people started to see Kazakhstan as a tourist destination and transit region.
Blogger Ertay Nusipjanov says by introducing visa-free travel the Kazakh government aims to boost tourism and agriculture. Despite the fear in the society that the Chinese who crossed the border will not leave the country, he is confident that such a scenario would not happen.

‘Now the border database shows who and when entered and exited the country. We have full control. Moreover, Chinese people have no desire to stay in Kazakhstan. Those who break the law have been breaking it for a long time despite the visa restrictions. Due to the corruption, they can easily cross the border. I think Chinese tourists benefit rather than harm our economy’, wrote the blogger, who studied for several years in China, on his Facebook page.

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