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China to offer visa-free travel to its own 'Hawaii'
[BEIJING] China unveiled plans Wednesday to permit visa-free travel to its southern island of Hainan, as Beijing pushes international tourism to the tropical destination in another step to open up the region.
The new policy will start in May and allow travellers from 59 countries to visit Hainan for 30 days visa free, said Qu Yunhai, deputy director of the State Immigration Administration at a press conference in Beijing.
Among the countries to be included in the programme are Russia, United States, France, Britain and Germany, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The new rule will give Hainan less stringent visa requirements than in the rest of China, where travellers have to apply for visas through Chinese consulates abroad.
The policy "embodies our resolve and approach to move one step further to opening to the outside world", Mr Qu said.
The liberalisation comes as part of a package of reforms to remake the island as a free trade zone and a beacon of openness for China.
On Monday, China announced it would allow Hainan to develop horse racing and explore opening new types of lotteries connected to sports and international competitions.
Beijing also said it wants to position Hainan as a "centre of international tourism consumption", a goal which has faced slow progress despite sandy beaches and massive spending on plush resorts.
The province attracted fewer than a million foreign visitors in 2016 - compared with over seven million in Thailand's Phuket, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
The new policy is being implemented by China's State Immigration Administration, a new agency formed during a government shuffle announced in March.
Previously, some international visitors to the island could avoid China's visa requirements if they were on a shorter trip and travelling as part of a tour group.