In the year ending December 31, 2019, 608,000 Australian residents visited China. This has made it the fifth most popular destination for Australians traveling abroad. In the current year, China will not even be among the top ten countries for Australians traveling abroad. China has locked its door. Only Chinese citizens, foreign nationals with residence permits, foreign students with valid student residence permits, and approved business travelers can enter.
The number of flights operated by Chinese carriers to Australia before and after the pandemic speaks volumes about the deep decline in traffic between the two countries. As of August 2019, nine China-based airlines operated services to and from Australia. During that month, these airlines had a total seat capacity of just over 300,000 passengers. As of August 2022, only three China-based carriers serve Australia, with a total capacity of 9,842 passengers. In August 2019, a single carrier, China Southern Airlines, operated 50 flights from Guangzhou to Sydney with 14,150 seats and 47 flights from Guangzhou to Melbourne. In August 2022, this number of China Eastern flights to any Australian city from Guangzhou was zero.
When could foreign visitors return to China?
Based on China’s current five-year plan, international flights will gradually return to normal between 2023 and 2025. This plan includes measures to strengthen coronavirus prevention and control in 2022, followed by a period of growth and expansion. a staggered reopening to the rest of the world.
The plan is not going well. At the root of the problem is China’s strict adherence to its zero Covid policy which aims to eradicate the coronavirus regardless of the cost to civil society or the economy. At the Communist Party Congress in October 2022, President Xi Jinping gave no indication that the government was planning to relax its Covid zero policy. Instead, he defended the strategy as a vital measure that China would continue to pursue, without suggesting a possible end date. Chinese government authorities continue to respond quickly and vigorously to any coronavirus threat. In late October, after a woman with Covid-19 was detected at Shanghai Disneyland, thousands of visitors were locked down and barred from leaving until they tested negative for the virus.
Covid zero does not bode well for the future, nor for the prospects of reopening. No one knows when foreign visitors might return to China. Not the tour operators here or in China, not the airlines, probably not even the Chinese government.
what we miss
In 2019, you could fly nonstop with China Eastern Airlines from Sydney to Kunming, the gateway to Yunnan Province, home to many Chinese ethnic minorities whose cultures are expressed in distinct styles of architecture, cooking and costumes. Highlights include a mountainous landscape cut into terraces for fields of barley and corn, the deep gorges of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers, and the town of Lijiang, where the shops and temples of the old town line a gushing stream . Raised on a plateau in the shade of rhododendron-covered mountains, the town of Zhongdian – renamed Shangri-La – stands amid Tibetan villages furnished with smoky temples and alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers where yaks graze.
Lijiang in Yunnan province. Photo: iStock
Before the pandemic, China Eastern Airlines flew directly from Sydney or Melbourne to Hangzhou. Stretching across the Qiangtang River before it merges with the East China Sea, Hangzhou is recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in China. The highlight is West Lake, where the dreamy landscape of willow-fringed shores, temples, pavilions and arched bridges supported by misty hills has fueled the imaginations of painters and poets over the years. generations. Hangzhou is also the gateway to the Longjing Tea Estates, the source of Dragon’s Well tea, famous throughout China for its fragrance, flavor and elegant shape.
Hangzhou. Photo: iStock
Another city with direct flights to Melbourne and Sydney before the pandemic, Nanjing was China’s capital for six dynastic periods and the city pays homage to its past with a famous collection of temples, pagodas and tombs. Among its cultural attractions, the Linggu Temple Scenic Area, a complex of Buddhist pavilions and pagodas set in a park-like environment, stands out. Besides its cultural attractions, Nanjing is a laid-back, cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and chic cafes and a reputation as a culinary capital, famous for its Jiangsu cuisine.
Linggu Temple Scenic Area. Photo: Xu Changyu/iStock
The port city of Xiamen, once served by nonstop flights from Melbourne and Sydney, is one of China’s most attractive cities, blessed with street markets, subtropical greenery and a rich colonial heritage. Just offshore, Gulangyu Island was once the foreign settlement known to the outside world as Amoy, one of only two such settlements on Chinese soil. Today, with its churches, consulates, villas and all the other fixtures of a colonial-era trading outpost still intact, the car-free island is a major draw for domestic tourists.
Sacred land to the Chinese, the leaping peaks and pine-clad ridges of Huangshan have provided the country’s ink painters with some of their favorite icons. Located 500 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, the Huangshan Scenic Area is a UNESCO World Heritage area made up of 36 distinct peaks above 1,800 meters. Mist rising from the valley below often causes disembodied peaks to float over a cloud doona.
Huangshan Scenic Area. Photo: Mint Images/Getty
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