Modi unveils visa plan to attract Chinese travelers

Modi unveils visa plan to attract Chinese travelers
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) chat during a visit to the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wooed Chinese visitors on Friday by announcing a liberal visa regime to facilitate business and tourist travel.

The move came as the Asian giants pledged to boost trade volumes that Premier Li Keqiang said do not match their economic clout.

Chinese will be able to apply for an Indian electronic tourist visa, or e-visa, Modi said during a speech at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"About 33 per cent of the world's population is either Indian or Chinese, yet our people know very little of each other," he said.

Indian media have reported that Modi overcame the resistance from security agencies and backed the foreign and tourism ministries over the visa plan. The programme's launch date has not been announced.

Travelers will be able to apply for an e-visa online, and the document will be valid for 30 days.

Once an application is approved, the authorisation to travel will be issued by e-mail, according to visa agency indianvisaonline.org.

About 145,000 Chinese travelled to India in 2013, while Thailand attracted 4.7 million, according to tourism authorities.

Tour agencies complain that strict visa procedures have discouraged Chinese tourists from going to India, although they are increasingly fond of traveling overseas.

The e-visa is one of a number of initiatives agreed to by the two countries as they seek to boost exchanges while putting the long- standing border question to one side.

They signed 24 deals on Friday after Li and Modi held talks that ran for nearly an hour longer than scheduled. The deals, which Indian media say are worth more than $10 billion, include an action plan for collaboration on railways.

"We just had in-depth talks and touched on a wide range of topics, which we both expect to yield common ground and results," Li said after the meeting. "It is fair to say that we met expectations."

Regarding the border question and other sensitive issues, Li restated China's stance by calling on both sides to demonstrate vision, keep negotiations going and establish mechanisms for co-operation.

To usher in a truly "Asian Century", he said, the two countries need to focus on promoting strategic co-operation and common development.

China is in discussions with India over helping it to build the world's second-longest high-speed railroad linking New Delhi in the north to the southern city of Chennai. It is Beijing's latest effort to push for a bigger share of the overseas high-speed train market.

Zheng Jian, a senior official at China's National Railway Administration, led a delegation to India last month to negotiate deals to upgrade existing railways, build high-speed lines and prepare to set up a railroad academy, according to a report on the authority's website.

Other deals cover mining, education, space, quality supervision, film and television, the oceans and earthquake science.

Bilateral trade increased from $4.95 billion in 2002 to $70.6 billion last year, although it accounted for less than 2 per cent of China's total trade, according to statistics on the website of China's State Council.

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