PolyU study finds Chinese outbound tourism policy a form of diplomacy
The Chinese government uses tourism as a form of ?soft diplomacy in its dealings with other countries writes Dr Tony Tse of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in a recently published research paper. By exerting control and influence over the development of outbound tourism, the government inextricably links tourist flows to its political agenda. Dr Tse surveys the use of tourism in Chinese international relations, showing how the country uses it to both offer support to and impose sanctions on other countries. Given the sheer size of the Chinese outbound tourism market, this has the potential to have significant effects at both the economic and political levels around the world.
With its huge population, rapidly expanding middle class and booming economy, China has an outbound tourism market with immense potential. Dr Tse points to a sevenfold increase in outbound numbers from only 10 million in 2000 to more than 70 million in 2011. Yet despite the huge economic importance of tourism, little attention is paid to its implications as a ?major policy issue?. This is particularly surprising, Dr Tse remarks, ?given the emphasis by politicians on tourism as a means to economic and regional development?.
As one of the few countries in the world with a public policy on outbound tourism, China is in an ideal position to use it to influence international relations. Dr Tse explains that the Chinese government uses tourism as a form of diplomatic influence, or ?soft power?. Yet the government?s outbound tourism policy is never publically articulated. ?Even Chinese experts?, writes Dr Tse, find it ?ambiguous?. It is hardly surprising, then, that international destinations wanting to attract more Chinese tourists often face inexplicable ?difficulties and barriers?. To clarify the situation, Dr Tse examines the political nature of China?s outbound tourism and the effects that the country?s tourism policy have on various destinations.
China controls its outbound tourism through the Approved Destination Status (ADS) scheme, a series of bilateral agreements with other countries that allow Chinese tourists to travel overseas in tour groups. The economic importance of the scheme is widely recognised, Dr Tse notes, as only countries that are part of the ADS are allowed to promote their tourism markets in China. By 2011, 140 countries had signed ADS agreements.
The withholding of ADS status is also an important political tool. Dr Tse describes how China delayed granting ADS status to Canada as a ?reprisal? for the Canadian government?s criticism of China?s human rights record and for the Prime Minister?s meeting with the Dalai Lama. Eventually, Canada extradited Lai Chanxing, who had fled to Canada following charges of corruption and smuggling. China granted ADS soon after. This, argues Dr Tse, illustrates that the Chinese government is prepared to ?manipulate ADS to add clout to its soft power and advance diplomatic discussions?.
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