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PM proposes making Chinese visa-free entry permanent

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin says he proposed making visa-free entry for Chinese tourists permanent during wide-ranging talks with Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang in Beijing.

Mr Srettha also briefed his counterpart on the benefits of a proposed landbridge in southern Thailand for the China-backed Belt and Road Initiative.

As well, the talks on Wednesday covered a proposed new bridge across the Mekong River to Laos to further spur Thailand-China trade, and easing requirements for Thai cow exports to China.

“Yesterday I felt a very good bond with the Chinese prime minister,” Mr Srettha said on Thursday. “He gave me his mobile number for direct calls. This is a good sign. Both countries must depend on each other. We must depend on China which is a big brother.”

The prime minister made the comments as he wrapped up his visit to Beijing for the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

The government has introduced a temporary visa exemption for 30-day stays for Chinese and Kazakh nationals to spur tourism as part of a broader economic revival plan. The programme started on Sept 25 and is scheduled to expire on Feb 29.

Initial response from Chinese travellers was encouraging, but the Oct 3 shootings at Siam Paragon, in which a Chinese visitor was one of three people who died, led to heightened security concerns that authorities have promised to address.

China was the country’s biggest source of international visitors before the Covid-19 pandemic, accounting for nearly 11 million arrivals in 2019. Tourism authorities expect about 5 million Chinese to visit the country this year.

Mr Srettha said he also assured his Chinese counterpart that Thailand would continuously support the Belt and Road Initiative. A proposed new bridge across the Mekong from Nong Khai to Laos, for example, would facilitate cargo exports from Thailand via Laos to China.

He also mentioned the landbridge project to link the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea via the southern provinces of Chumphon and Ranong. This too would enhance the potential of the Belt and Road to improve connections with international destinations as China expected, Mr Srettha said.

The 90-kilometre-long landbridge would cut cargo transport time between the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea by six to nine days compared with transport via the Strait of Malacca, he said.

The landbridge project and the development of Chinese factories in Thailand would turn Thailand into a logistics hub of the world, he added.

Mr Srettha said he also proposed making the export of cows more efficient by having checks done in Thailand before their export to China. At present, China requires checks including health examinations and vaccinations to be conducted in Laos.

If the process is conducted in Thailand, cows can be exported move conveniently by rail and sea to China, he said.

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