04/18/2008, 00.00
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As the Games knock China shuts the door

Entry visa requirements get more restrictive. Tourism and trade in Hong Kong are expected to suffer. The European Chamber of Commerce in the Special Region seeks solutions. The authorities for “security reasons” cancel a festival the European Union had been planning for quite some in the capital.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As the Olympic Games get closer China is tightening its entry visa requirements, making it harder to visit the country. As of 16 April visitors from 33 countries can no longer get a visa to the mainland in Hong Kong, where bureaucratic hurdles were less burdensome, but must now directly apply from their home countries and show a return ticket as well as a hotel reservation. Meanwhile Beijing cancels for “Olympic security” reasons a festival organised by the European Union.

Until last Wednesday it was possible to get a five-day visa in Hong Kong and many companies had set up in the Special Region for that same reason. Now except for those already resident in Hong Kong, nationals from 33 countries (including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Nigeria and Turkey) must go home to apply.

The new rules were issued last Tuesday by the Commissioner's Office of the Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong and came into force the next day. Even before that the European Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Commissioner's Office of the Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong on Monday seeking a meeting with senior officials to thrash out solutions and sort out difficulties foreign businesspeople now face in travelling to the mainland, especially when they have to travel on short notices.

The new restrictions were preceded by a halt to the issuing of multiple-entry visas—which travel agents were told about on 27March—and the suspension on April 1 of short-visit visas to Shenzhen, which were previously issued at the border to those who wanted to go for cross-border shopping.

Local business people are especially worried that the new regulations would negatively impact trans-border tourism.

Meanwhile Beijing has told the European Union to cancel a festival scheduled for 11 and 12 May in Chaoyang Park.

“We are shocked and disappointed by what we see as unnecessary security measures,” said a Beijing-based spokeswoman for the EU presidency. The event called "EU Extravaganza" had been approved by China’s Culture Ministry.

“I can't say if the Chinese government is paranoid. But I don't think this is normal procedure before an Olympics,” the spokeswoman for the 27-nation block said.

As the Games get closer and closer Beijing wants to avoid any form of protest or challenge.

Back in November Ministry of Public Security Deputy Director Ma Weiya had said that in principle all mass events, be they cultural, sport or trade conventions, would be allowed.

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