China visa fears rebuffed

China visa fears rebuffed

Questions raised as top diplomat visits

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is seen with a dragon dance troupe from Trimitwittayalai School at Government House on Friday, prior to Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 10. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is seen with a dragon dance troupe from Trimitwittayalai School at Government House on Friday, prior to Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 10. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The government has downplayed concern that its visa exemption policy for Chinese tourists may be exploited by some criminals to enter the country and operate illegal businesses here.

Kanchana Patarachok, spokeswoman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told a weekly media briefing on Friday that Thailand and China have already worked closely together to combat transnational crime.

The visa-exemption policy must be separate from the enforcement of law, she said.

"The law must be strictly enforced to deal with transnational crime, while the visa-free policy is intended to make it easier for foreign travellers to enter the country," Ms Kanchana said.

"When foreign visitors enter the country, they are still subject to immigration control anyway. [Criminal] records will be checked," she said.

This comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Bangkok on a four-day official visit, where he will sign an agreement with Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara on a reciprocal visa-free scheme in which Thailand and China will permanently waive visa requirements for each other's citizens from March 1.

Mr Wang will also sign an agreement to open Chinese consulates in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen, Ms Kanchana said. Mr Wang's visit wraps up on Monday.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, also the finance minister, revealed earlier that Thailand and China had agreed on the reciprocal visa-free scheme, describing it as upgrading Thailand's previous visa-free programme for Chinese visitors, initially scheduled to last until Feb 29.

The mutual visa exemption, due to come into effect on March 1, will apply to holders of ordinary passports and public affairs passports between Thailand and China, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Regarding a two-day meeting which ends on Saturday between United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Mr Wang in Bangkok, Ms Kanchana said that Thailand had no role in arranging the meeting.

The meeting is the result of earlier talks between the US and China, she said, adding that Thailand hopes that the talks in Bangkok will lead to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and across the world.

Thailand acknowledged the planned meeting between the US and China and was glad to be chosen as the venue for the talks, Ms Kanchana said.

The meeting between Mr Sullivan and Mr Wang comes a little more than two months after US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for about four hours on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in San Francisco, according to Reuters.

Mr Biden and Mr Xi agreed to open a presidential hotline, resume military-to-military communications, and work to curb fentanyl production but remained at odds over Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory over the strong objections of the Taipei government.

"This meeting [in Bangkok] continues the commitment by both sides at the November 2023 Woodside Summit between President Biden and President Xi to maintain strategic communication and responsibly manage the relationship," Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced in a separate statement that the US-China ties and Taiwan were topics to be raised at the meeting between Mr Sullivan and Mr Wang in Bangkok, building on a pledge by the leaders of the world's two largest economies to deepen dialogue, Reuters reported.

According to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Sullivan met with Mr Srettha and Mr Parnpree at Government House on Friday.

Both Thailand and the US reiterated their commitment to the long-standing alliance between the two countries based on shared values of democracy, human rights, and human security.

They also discussed ways to further enhance their partnership at bilateral and regional levels across diverse fields.

Both sides also exchanged views on the current regional security landscape, as well as the latest key developments, including the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East.

The two sides reaffirmed their intention to strengthen their strategic alliance and partnership, including through enhanced high-level engagements and the upcoming Thailand–United States Strategic and Defense Dialogue (2+2), which the Thai side will host in Bangkok next month.

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