In a confidence building measure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced that India will grant e-visas to Chinese tourists.
“We have decided to extend electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals,” Modi said addressing students and faculty at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Hours before the PM’s announcement, foreign secretary S Jaishankar had said “no decision has been taken yet” on granting e-visas to Chinese tourists.
When asked about extending e-visa facility to Chinese tourists, Jaishankar on Friday morning said, “We are expanding it bit-by-bit. With regard to China, no decision has been taken yet.”
Addressing the gathering at the university, Modi said, “About 33 per cent of the world’s population is either Indian or Chinese. Yet, our people know very little of each other.”
“We must seek inspiration from the pilgrims of the ancient times, who braved the unknown in search of knowledge, and enriched us both,” he said.
“So, we have decided to extend electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals. We are celebrating the Year of India in China in 2015,” he added.
Surprisingly, Modi chose to announce this significant initiative which Chinese officials have been calling for in his address to the university not during his joint appearance for the press with Premier Li Keqiang.
The announcement came in the teeth of strong opposition from the home ministry and security agencies over security concerns of its misuse, while the external affairs ministry and ministry of tourism pressed for it.
Ahead of his China visit which began on Thursday, the decision to grant e-visas was left to Modi to decide.
India this year has announced ‘Visit India Year’ in China to attract more tourists in order to boost tourism revenues.
While less than two lakh Chinese visit India, more Chinese travellers are visiting Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives enhancing their tourism revenues.
Last year 1.4 lakh Chinese visited Nepal, an increase of 70 per cent. While over four lakh Chinese visited Maldives, 1.3 lakh visited Sri Lanka, and increase of 130 per cent.
India is organising visit India year this year to entice a chunk of about 100 million Chinese tourists who visited abroad last year spending billions of dollars on shopping.
China has proposed a Buddhist circuit connecting China, Nepal and Sri Lanka to attract more tourists. China has large Buddhist population. They are keen to visit Buddhist sites in India like Nalanda.
The e-visa announcement was seen as a prelude India relaxing investment norms to China to attract large scale Chinese investors.