BEIJING (AP) — Britain announced simplified visa application rules Monday that it hopes will entice more high-spending travelers from China, as the two sides eased a spat over the Dalai Lama that had disrupted economic exchanges.
The announcement by U.K. treasury chief George Osborne came at the start of a five-day trade mission to China during which several major deals are expected to be signed.
Osborne's visit also marked a resumption of normal exchanges that were suspended after Prime Minister David Cameron angered Beijing by meeting last year with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader accused by Chinese authorities of fomenting separatism — a charge he denies.
Cameron was forced to abandon a trip to Beijing in April after China said he would not be able to meet with high-ranking officials. Some lower-level meetings also were put on hold. British diplomats say that Cameron's visit is being rescheduled, although no date has been announced.
In a speech to students at the elite Peking University, Osborne emphasized Britain's keenness to attract Chinese trade and investment in all sectors.
"I don't want Britain to resent China's success; I want us to celebrate it," Osborne said. "I don't want us to try to resist your economic progress; I want Britain to share it."
The visa changes allow selected Chinese tour guides to apply to visit Britain using only the application for the Schengen zone, which covers 22 out of the 28 EU member states along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. That makes it easier for them to lead groups both on the continent and in Britain, which requires most Chinese visitors to apply separately for a British visa.
Targeting China's new wealthy, the U.K. also will start a 24-hour "super priority" application, and is considering expanding a VIP service that sends teams out to applicants to collect their forms and biometric data.
British tourism officials have complained that the need to apply for a second visa discourages free-spending Chinese groups from visiting the U.K., meaning they buy handbags and other luxury goods in France or other Schengen countries instead.