In the decade between 2009 and 2018, more than one billion outbound trips were made by Chinese Mainland residents, according to figures recently released by the National Immigration Administration (NIA) of China. For 2018, by the way, the number is given as “over 160 million”, which tallies nicely with the COTRI figure of 162 million, but contradicts the official number of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of 149.7 million trips for 2018.
The NIA also publishes – to the knowledge of your humble reporter for the first time ever – numbers for the earlier periods:
Between 1949 and 1978 not more than 1.7 million trips brought Chinese citizens across the border during thirty years.
For the twenty years between the start of the Reform and Opening policy in December 1978 and the year 2008, the number rose, according to Min Haiyun, head of the exit-entry department of the NIA, to around 330 million.
The decade 2009-2018 finally saw 1.05 billion outbound trips.
Next to the question of outbound travels, the number of existing passports has also been a much-debated topic in recent years, with educated guesses as the best source. Again, NIA is shedding now some light on this issue.
In the first three decades since 1949, about 210,000 passports were issued. It has to be added to the NIA number here however the information that until the beginning of the new millennium these “passports” for private citizens were actually mere exit visa, as they were valid only for one trip. Only “official” passports for diplomats and other official had a longer period of validity.
Unfortunately the NIA does not give detailed numbers for the period after 1978, but mentions that in 2007 alone 5.66 million passports were issued and in 2017 26.74 million, increasing further to 30.08 million new passports in 2018.
Altogether, today around 13 percent of the mainland residents have held valid regular passports according to NIA, which would translate into about 180 million passports. This number, NIA says, is expected to exceed 200 million at the end of 2019. Therefore the total number of regular passport holders would go up to 15%, however that includes also all passports issued in the past. The vexing question of How many Chinese have a valid passport today? remains therefore unanswered, but should be in the region of 12 to 13 percent.
The once so important ADS Approved Destination Status is not mentioned anymore by Chinese authorities, but is echoed in the statement of the NIA that 159 countries have become “destinations for Chinese tour groups”. The number of countries and regions offering visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry for Chinese citizens holding regular passports stood at the beginning of 2019 at 72 and has been growing further. Iran and Brazil are the latest additions to the list of countries offering visa-free entry, with Thailand probably soon following. There have been discussions within the government putting security against economic gain, but with arrival numbers from China sliding for more than a year now, the economic argument is likely to win in the end.
So: From a third of a billion in 20 years to one billion in a decade. If that speed of development would continue, the world would face a wave of six billion Chinese outbound trips within the new decade. COTRIs forecast stands at close to three billion trips within the decade; already this will be an amount of visitors which will be hard to manage. Let us better be careful what we wish for!
All good wishes, peace and prosperity for all our readers!
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY Team