Malaysia's visa-free policy for Chinese tourists is only part of broader moves from Kuala Lumpur to boost the inflow of tourists from China and build up people-to-people exchanges, the nation's top envoy to Beijing said on Friday.
Ambassador Norman Muhamad said in an interview in Beijing that his country has set the target of attracting 5 million Chinese tourists on a yearly basis after the new one-year visa-free regime, which allows tourists to stay for up to 30 days, took effect on Friday.
The two countries are also planning to increase the number of direct flights next year to boost tourist numbers, he said.
Beijing announced last month its decision to offer 15-day visa-free entry to travelers holding ordinary passports from Malaysia and another five European countries. The policy also took effect on Friday and will last till Nov 30, 2024.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the inflow of Chinese tourists in the Southeast Asian country, which welcomed about 690,000 Chinese tourists in the seven months to July this year. Malaysia received over 3 million Chinese tourists in 2019.
"I cannot over-stress the importance of people-to-people contact," said Norman, adding that people-to-people exchanges not only usher in better mutual understanding, but also greater links in economy, trade and education.
He also said China's latest visa-free policy for Malaysians could serve as a springboard for more students to study in China.
"I am happy to see the increasing interest from students in Malaysia to study in China," he said, explaining that the interests have now stretched from students both with and without Chinese origin.
"Now, the people in Malaysia have realized the importance of China and the fast pace of development in China. Mandarin is a very important language in the world."
With next year marking the 50th anniversary of ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, Norman said the Malaysian side has invited Chinese leaders to visit the nation to further boost bilateral relations.
"If that happens, it would be very auspicious," he said.
Norman expressed hope that the visa-free policy will also serve as a gateway to attract more investment from Chinese businesses.
The Malaysian envoy reaffirmed his nation's steadfast support to China in its accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement that involves 11 countries including Malaysia.
"To have China in the arrangement will be very good for everyone," he said. "We see China as an important economic partner, and China is our largest source of foreign investment and largest trading partner."
The moves by the two nations to offer visa-free arrangements have already given Malaysian expatriates in China a boost in confidence.
Gaston Chee, a Malaysian based in Beijing and managing partner at BeGo Education, said the latest moves from the two nations underscore the depth of ties between the two nations and would greatly facilitate two-way flow of personnel.
"It was a very fitting gesture by the two governments as both nations are set to celebrate a golden jubilee of diplomatic relations next year," he said.
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