TASHKENT/SEPT. 12 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan will drop visa requirements for Chinese citizens from Jan. 1 to boost tourism, a sector that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has targeted since taking over as leader from the reclusive Islam Karimov in 2016.
The decision to allow Chinese citizens to stay for seven days without a visa will make Uzbekistan the only country in Central Asia to give China visa-free access.
In June, Uzbek officials said that tourist numbers had risen by 42% in the first quarter of the year to 1.3m, a surge that has boosted revenues and opened up the country which was previously regarded as near off-limits.
Infrastructure, and in particular hotels and travel, has been a major focus.
This week, the Uzbek government said that it would build a new terminal at Samarkand airport. Airlines now fly direct to Samarkand where many of Uzbekistan’s most famous sites are located.
Earlier this year, Uzbekistan approved visa-free entry to dozens of countries but some people are concerned that the government is moving too fast. Extending visa-free travel to Chinese citizens also comes with added political risk. Sentiment towards China has worsened over the past year because of its treatment towards Muslims in its Western Xinjiang region.
“Most of the people are to some extent worried about this,” said a Tashkent-based analyst who did not want to be named. “Uzbeks are negative towards China on many issues, especially over its Xinjiang policy.”
— This story was first pulished in issue 422 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin