China does things in her own way and in her own time
Have China’s famous visa restrictions on visits to Macau been lifted?
The answer is ‘maybe’. If ever there was an argument for foreign investors giving attention to China’s internal politics and looking out for subtle signals of policy change then it’s over this significant matter.
In December, in an announcement that went almost unnoticed in the English-language media, China’s premier Wen Jiabao said that residents of Shenzhen, the former fishing village on the border of Hong Kong that mushroomed into a city of 12 million people (and counting) in less than 30 years, would be allowed multiple entry permits for visits to Macau and Hong Kong.
How the policy will work in practice is, as ever in China, the key issue. It would be a brave commentator who stated categorically that the restrictions imposed incrementally last year on the travel permit system known as the Individual Visit Scheme are now definitively lifted.
Nonetheless, the smoke signals are encouraging. In response to premier Wen’s statement, officials from Macau, Hong Kong, and Guangdong recently proposed multiple-entry permits for Guangdong residents who live outside Shenzhen. As around 60% of Macau’s visitors have been from Mainland China in recent years and 80% of them were folk from Guangdong making repeat visits (half of that cohort using the IVS system), the ‘new’ policy would in effect be for many Chinese visitors a return to how things were before the visa restrictions, but with ‘go faster’ stripes.
It seems unlikely the three Pearl River Delta jurisdictions would stick their necks out on the visa issue without being pretty sure that Beijing is receptive to the proposal. One media report suggested up to 40 million Guangdong residents may have the disposable income and the inclination to take advantage of a new-look IVS scheme.