Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

2 Nov, 2012

Joint German-French visa center to increase Chinese tourists

Zhou Wa in Beijing and Fu Jing in Brussels (China Daily)

2012-10-31 – Germany and France officially opened the first joint visa application center in Beijing on Tuesday, to ease the application process and attract more Chinese to Europe. The newly built center can make the process of applying for a visa more convenient, but Chinese are still required to provide extensive material in the application process, analysts said, urging that the process should be made more transparent.

Chinese who want to apply to Schengen countries – 26 European countries that signed a mutual borderless zone pact – can hand in visa applications to the center instead of going to the German or French embassies.

The center can handle more visa applications at the same time than was previously possible. Applicants can get visas within two weeks on average, said Alejandro Taylor-Escribano, a project manager from the TLScontact company.

The company helps applicants understand visa regulations and application procedures and prepare their applications to the embassies.

The new center was built to reduce the waiting time for an appointment to submit visa applications and facilitate the application process for Chinese passport holders, said German Ambassador Michael Schaefer.

The number of Chinese traveling to Europe has grown enormously in recent years, resulting in longer waiting periods throughout the application process, especially during peak tourism season.

Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to China, said she believes that more Chinese will travel to Europe in the future, and the center can handle more than the possible number of Chinese visa applicants.

Rainer Gehnen, general manager of the German-Chinese Business Association in Cologne, said the center is just the beginning, and in the long run, the European Union should have an office in charge of the visa approval for all member countries.

“I welcome joint initiatives by Germany and France because they show the world the political integration of the EU,” he said, adding that what most concerns him is that the application procedure should be transparent and efficient.

“Over the long term, we hope that one day that Chinese visiting Europe and Europeans visiting China will need no visa at all,” he said.

Chinese still have to face cumbersome regulations for visa applications to European countries, said Liu Jianming, an expert on European studies at the China Institute of International Studies.

They are usually asked to submit a wide range of private information during the process, including certification of property and income, health insurance, marriage licenses and even the names of dead relatives.

EU countries should remove some unnecessary requirements, not just shorten the waiting time, he said.

Song Yang, a violin dealer in Beijing who wants to do business in the EU, said she still has concerns about applying for a Schengen visa because she may have to visit the center repeatedly to submit seemingly irrelevant material.

As European countries are struggling through the deepest recession in more than half a century, they want to capitalize on the growing number of travelers, so they are trying to ease the visa application for Chinese.

Jose Pons, consul general of Spain, said his country opened a similar visa application center just one month ago, cooperating with another visa service company.

“We want to welcome 30 or 35 percent more next year And in the long term, we expect an annual increase of more than 30 percent.”

The United Kingdom is also considering making entry easier for Chinese tourists, as a proposal to allow dual processing of British and Schengen visas was presented to the UK Border Agency in early October.

Deng Zhangyu contributed to this story.

China sovereign wealth fund buys Heathrow stake

(Xinhua) BEIJING 2012-11-01 – The China Investment Corporation, China’s sovereign wealth fund, announced Thursday that its subsidiary will purchase a 10-percent stake in Heathrow Airport Holdings. The British company, previously known as the BAA Ltd, manages London’s Heathrow International Airport and other British air hubs.

The deal marks CIC’s second investment in British infrastructure, as the company also holds an 8.68-percent stake in Thames Water, the largest water supply and waste water treatment company in the UK. CIC posted a one-sentence statement on its website about the deal without providing any financial details.

The sovereign wealth fund was founded in September 2007 with a registered capital of $200 billion amid hopes of making better use of China’s huge foreign exchange reserves.

According to the company’s 2011 business report, its total assets stood at $482 billion at the end of that year. Thirty-one percent of its overseas investment portfolio was in long-term investments; 25 percent in diversified public equities; 21 percent in fixed-income securities; 12 percent in absolute return investments; and 11 percent in cash funds and other types of investments.