Laos and China have officially reopened their borders, closed for almost three years due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s Zero-COVID policy, but – so far – two-way traffic has been a trickle not a flood.
Last month, China dropped its policy of regional lockdowns, mass tracking and testing, and travel restrictions, allowing the resumption of international travel from Jan. 8.
Unlike many countries, Laos has not imposed restrictions on Chinese visitors. A statement from the prime minister’s office on Dec. 23 said there would be no requirement to show a vaccination card, or the results of a COVID-19 test taken within 48-hours before entering the country. The ruling applies to people from any country who wish to enter Laos.
Fewer than 100 people crossed the border into Laos on Sunday, a Lao border official at the Boten border checkpoint in Luang Namtha province who wished to remain anonymous told RFA.
Three times as many people crossed the border the other way as Chinese nationals living in Laos took the opportunity to return to see their families ahead of the weeklong Spring Festival/Lunar New Year holidays, which start on Jan. 21.
Chinese tourists made up more than one-fifth of the 4.8 million international visitors to Laos in 2019, second only to Thai tourists, and were responsible for over one-fifth of tourist spending, according to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism’s Tourism Development Department. In their absence the country’s tourism sector has been struggling.
Just over a year ago Laos and China completed a U.S.$6 billion high-speed railway, expected to bring more Chinese tourists into the country. At the moment the daily service from the capital Vientiane terminates at the border town of Boten, but talks on introducing a direct service to the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming are expected to start soon.
Southeast Asian countries will start seeing more Chinese tourists after the Lunar New Year, according to Thailand’s 3Plus News, but a mass influx is unlikely any time soon as many Chinese nationals still need to renew or apply for passports at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Translated by Phouvong for RFA Lao. Edited by Mike Firn.
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