The Effects of China's Tourism Diplomacy and a "United Front"

By Shih-Ping, Fan | China: An International Journal, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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The Effects of China's Tourism Diplomacy and a "United Front"


Shih-Ping, Fan, China: An International Journal


Chinese tourism has been growing rapidly in tandem with China's economic development since the 1990s. The situation was such that domestic tourism could no longer satisfy demand, leading to a rise in outbound tourism, a much welcome boost to the economies of other countries. Along with this rise in tourism is the realisation that tourism can be utilised as a political bargaining chip in China's foreign affairs. This article aims to probe the political roles of Chinese outbound tourism and examine the significance of inter-discipline integration to acquire new thinking derived from the interaction between politics and tourism.

Evolution of Chinese Outbound Tourism

The Chinese began to travel in large numbers in the late 1970s after the launch of China's economic reforms and opening to the world. From the 1980s, barriers to Chinese travelling to Hong Kong, Macao and Thailand for the purpose of visiting relatives were lifted. Then, from the 1990s, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the countries in the Asia Pacific regions became popular destinations for Chinese outbound tourists (see Table 1).

Moreover, since 2002, many more countries, especially in Europe, as well as in Central and South America and Africa, have been approved as tourist destinations in China. The US granted Approved Destination Status (ADS) in 2008. (1) Over the last 14 years, Chinese outbound tourism has steadily grown (see Table 2). Currently, China has emerged as the fastest growing source of tourists in the world.

Table 3 shows that China ranked fifth in terms of tourism spending in 2008. The World Tourism Organization estimates that there will be nearly 100 million outbound travellers from China by 2020, accounting for 6.2 per cent of the total market share. In 2001, China was the fourth largest source country for tourists, after Germany, Japan and the US. (2)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Political Roles of Chinese Outbound Tourism

This article discusses the political roles of Chinese outbound tourism from four theoretical aspects. The first is "globalisation" (see Figure 1). Outbound tourism is a necessary response to globalisation. As suggested by Marie-Francoise Lanfant et al., international tourism has become a total social phenomenon and an inevitable international fact. (3) The second is "mixed economy". The Chinese government has created favourable conditions by managing and controlling outbound tourism. The third is the effects which can be divided into the economic effects of tourism and the display of China's soft power through its outbound tourism.

(1) Background of Political Roles of Chinese Outbound Tourism

The source of the theory of globalisation was Marshall Mcluhan, a Canadian media theorist who proposed the concept of global village in the 1960s. (4) At the end of the 1980s, the collapse of the communist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe prompted China to implement reforms and open its doors. In the 1990s, globalisation became the trend and outbound tourism was finally permitted in China after many years of being banned.

Globalisation, however, has become a controversial topic in recent years. Some scholars are extremely optimistic about the development of globalisation and believe that nation states will be replaced by the market, an exaggeration theory represented by neo-liberalists, such as Francis Fukuyama and Kenichi Ohmae. (5) However, the concept of one-dimensional hyper-globalisers often leads to objections by some sceptics, such as Grahame Thompson, Paul Hirst and Linda Weiss, (6) who have emphasised that globalisation is internationalisation, and countries still govern the economies. The third view is held by transformationalists like British scholar Anthony Giddens, German scholar Ulirich Beck and American scholar Roland Robertson. (7) They consider globalisation a process of social transition and a central driving force behind the rapid social, political and economic changes that are reshaping modern societies and world order.

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