APRIL 1 — Recent news reports have indicated that the implementation of visa-free travel has led to a surge in tourists between Malaysia and China, prompting calls for the visa-free policy to be made permanent. As discussions unfold regarding the permanence of this policy, it is imperative to delve into the multifaceted advantages that a permanent visa-free arrangement could offer to Malaysia. Over the years, the relationship between Malaysia and China has blossomed, driven by robust economic ties, cultural exchanges and burgeoning tourism. At the heart of this dynamic partnership lies the reciprocal visa-free policy, which has emerged as a catalyst for fostering deeper connections and unlocking new opportunities.

The establishment of a permanent visa-free policy between Malaysia and China signifies a profound commitment to fostering enduring bilateral relations. According to recent statistics from Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), bilateral trade between Malaysia and China reached a staggering US$190.24 billion last year, marking China as Malaysia’s largest trading partner for 15 consecutive years. This economic interdependence underscores the importance of facilitating seamless travel between our nations to further enhance economic cooperation and cultural exchange. The visa-free policy serves as a tangible manifestation of the deepening friendship between Malaysia and China. By removing barriers to travel, it fosters greater mutual understanding, trust and cooperation between the two nations. According to a survey conducted by the Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association (MCTA), over 80% of Chinese tourists expressed positive sentiments towards Malaysia, citing the visa-free policy as a key factor in their decision to visit. Furthermore, increased people-to-people exchanges have led to a proliferation of cultural events, educational programmes and business collaborations between Malaysia and China. In addition, the Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) has reported a surge in applications for student visas from Chinese nationals, indicating a growing interest in pursuing higher education opportunities in Malaysia.

Since the initiation of the visa-free policy in December 2023, Malaysia has witnessed a remarkable surge in tourist arrivals from China. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Since the initiation of the visa-free policy in December 2023, Malaysia has witnessed a remarkable surge in tourist arrivals from China. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

The tourism industry stands to benefit immensely from a permanent visa-free policy. Since the initiation of the visa-free policy in December 2023, Malaysia has witnessed a remarkable surge in tourist arrivals from China. According to data from Tourism Malaysia, Chinese tourist arrivals are expected to reach a total of 3.5 million visitors by the end of 2024. This influx of tourists has injected vitality into Malaysia’s tourism sector, contributing to a significant uptick in revenue and employment opportunities. Malaysia’s tourism industry is poised for robust growth, with tourist arrivals projected to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2026. The permanence of the visa-free policy would play a pivotal role in sustaining this momentum, providing certainty and predictability for travellers and tourism operators. Moreover, it would stimulate ancillary industries such as hospitality, retail, transportation and entertainment, further bolstering economic growth and diversification. With the removal of visa barriers, tourism operators anticipate a continuous influx of Chinese visitors, leading to heightened revenue generation and job creation within the tourism sector.


The economic impact of visa-free travel extends far beyond the tourism industry. The Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) reports a substantial increase in bilateral aviation capacity between Malaysia and China, with a projected growth of 95.3% in 2024 compared to 2019 levels. This surge in aviation capacity reflects the burgeoning opportunities for trade, investment and business collaboration between our nations. Furthermore, with easier access to travel, Chinese investors and entrepreneurs are more likely to explore investment opportunities in Malaysia, contributing to economic growth and job creation.

Visa-free travel fosters cross-cultural interactions and mutual understanding between Malaysia and China. By experiencing each other’s cultural heritage and traditions firsthand, individuals from both nations develop a deeper appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism. This cultural exchange not only enriches personal experiences but also lays the groundwork for enduring friendships and diplomatic goodwill.

The permanence of the visa-free policy would solidify Malaysia’s standing as a premier tourist destination in the eyes of Chinese travellers. Continuity and predictability in travel regulations would instil confidence and encourage repeat visits, fostering loyalty and affinity towards Malaysia. With its diverse array of attractions, ranging from natural wonders to cultural landmarks, Malaysia offers enriching experiences that appeal to the discerning tastes of Chinese tourists. The Malaysian government aims to attract over five million Chinese tourists annually by 2026, further solidifying its position as a leading destination in the Asia-Pacific region.


In addition to economic and cultural benefits, permanent visa-free travel aligns with principles of sustainable tourism. By streamlining travel processes and reducing bureaucratic hurdles, we can promote responsible tourism practices. A permanent visa-free policy aligns with Malaysia’s broader development agenda, serving as a strategic enabler for achieving key economic and diplomatic objectives. It supports initiatives such as Visit Malaysia Year 2026 and reinforces efforts to enhance tourism resilience post-pandemic. By harnessing the synergies between tourism promotion, trade facilitation and diplomatic engagement, Malaysia maximises the potential of the visa-free policy to advance its national interests and aspirations.

In conclusion, the permanent implementation of visa-free travel between Malaysia and China holds immense potential to strengthen bilateral relations, stimulate economic growth and promote cultural exchange. By capitalising on the momentum generated by this visionary initiative, we can pave the way for a future characterised by cooperation, prosperity and mutual respect. As we embark on this shared journey towards a more interconnected world, let us seize the opportunities afforded by visa-free travel to build bridges of understanding and forge lasting partnerships between Malaysia and China.

* Teh Choon Jin is Registrar, Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) and Vice President, Malaysia China Welfare Advisory Society.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.