Tourism, Travel

Tourism, Travel

Commentary: Is China using tourists to extend its overseas influence?

Commentary: Is China using tourists to extend its overseas influence?

10.10.2019

Commentary: Is China using tourists to extend its overseas influence?

The Chinese government has a degree of leverage over its tourists that other governments do not enjoy, says the University of Tokyo's Anu Anwar.

Some of these tools are inducements, including Belt and Road Initiative projects and new development financial institutions.

As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).

But China has demonstrated that it will use its new economic leverage in pursuit of political goals unrelated to economic exchange, swiftly shifting inducements to punishments.

Two factors make regulating tourist flows tempting for Chinese policymakers: The size of its international tourism industry and the control China can still exercise over outward tourism.

But whether tourism has been an effective political tool is debated.

The Chinese government has a degree of leverage over its tourists that other governments do not enjoy. Many Chinese tourists are new to international tourism and have limited international language abilities.

There is still a strong desire for comfort-zone or group tourism — approximately 38 per cent of outbound Chinese tourists are on group tours. China also has licensing and other forms of formal and informal leverage over tour group operators.

Since the Chinese government has stronger regulatory power over tour agencies than most governments, it can also seek to influence foreign behaviour by curtailing such tours.

Foreign countries struggle to retaliate. Often, there are far more Chinese tourists going to their country than the other way around, a significant change in recent years.

Turkey became the first victim of China’s use of tourist sanctions in 2000 when it refused to allow a Soviet-built Ukrainian ship that China had purchased to be the basis of its first aircraft carrier to pass through the Bosphorus. China restricted outbound tourists to the country, pressuring Turkey to relent..

Despite tourism dropping by 24 per cent, there was no noticeable impact on Japanese policy.

READ: Commentary: Wouldn't it be nice to have more public holidays?

Chinese tourists look at a map detailing the route of a boat tour on the Yalu River, which separates North Korea and China, at a ticket office in Dandong, Liaoning province, China June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Brenda Goh

There is a trend of increasing solo travelling, particularly among Chinese millennials. This will only increase as people become more accustomed to travelling abroad.

It seems though that outright government meddling in pursuit of political goals may decline if it is seen as counterproductive to political goals or domestically unpopular.

Read more: CNA

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