Chinese nationals who want to visit Trinidad and Tobago will likely soon be able to enter the country visa-free, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has said.
She was speaking on Sunday night at a celebratory dinner held for 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in honour of the visit to Trinidad of Chinese Deputy Minister for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, He Yafei.
Among the guests at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s were Chinese Ambassador Huang Xingyuan, his wife, Ma Li, several members of Cabinet, and prominent members of the local Chinese community.
The first diplomatic mission from China to Trinidad was established in 1974 while Trinidad and Tobago’s first embassy in China was opened in February
Persad-Bissessar said following concerns raised by the Chinese government about the difficulty its nationals have had to acquire a Trinidad and Tobago visa, the option to allow Chinese travellers who have already qualified for United States visas or otherwise, to be exempt from needing a Trinidad and Tobago visa.
She said this will be considered for the first phase as an initial “filtering process” until complete removal of visa requirements. But, she added, if Trinidad and Tobago is to allow Chinese nationals into the country visa-free, this country will expect some sort of reciprocity for our nationals to enter China visa-free.
Persad-Bissessar noted that on her official visit in February, visa restrictions were a main concern for Chinese officials.
“Before we had no embassy, now we have one. But China is a vast place. Previously (visas would be obtained) out of London or elsewhere, how difficult that was for a Chinese national to visit Trinidad and Tobago. That didn’t stop them—the Chinese have fortitude,” she quipped, in reference the ship on which the first Chinese indentured labourers came to Trinidad almost 208 years ago.
Persad-Bissessar noted that Jamaica had already removed the visa requirement for Chinese nationals to visit.
“What does that mean? Their business and tourism sectors will grow tremendously from the influx of Chinese who will come to invest and visit,” she said.
She also noted the several major construction projects underway throughout the country, with Chinese firms as the main contractor, including the Couva Children’s Hospital, the National Aquatic Centre, the National Velodrome (both also in Couva) and the UWI South Campus in Debe.
“I see the Couva Hospital rising so quickly as I (travel) up and down the highway several times a week and feel so proud. I look forward to it opening later this year” she said.
She noted that there have been concerns from the national community about nationals from other countries coming to work here and whether the foreigners are “boxing bread out of the mouths of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”
“We have serious shortages of skilled labour in many areas and perhaps in some of these fields this is where we partner together (with China). This is why I was very happy (both governments have) discussed the possibility of having medical personnel come to Trinidad for partnerships because we have a serious shortage of doctors, nurses and others engaged in the medical field.
“So whilst some may be concerned I would say what we are about is development of Trinidad and Tobago and to partner with other nations who are developing (with whom we have) bonds of friendship and diplomatic relations. I say this to underscore: let not your hearts be troubled,” she said.
n Chinese Deputy Minister for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, He Yafei also delivered remarks, saying he saw a “wonderful future” for the mutual development of both countries.
He noted there were two reasons for the “special relationship” shared by the two countries: Both are developing countries whose economic power has been growing with the shift in global and political power after the financial meltdown in 2008. Both countries also have a deep-rooted friendship, he said, strengthened by the contributions of the Chinese community to all aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s society.
n He also brought along special Chinese chefs who showed of their culinary expertise, carving figures, including birds, from vegetables like turnips and carrots.