“Portugal has signalled this matter, that we would very much like to be included in the group of countries” with the exemption, Pedro Reis told Lusa, in Macau, where he is representing Portugal at the 6th ministerial conference of the Economic and Commercial Cooperation Forum between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries, better known as the Macau Forum.

In March, the Chinese government extended its visa-free policy for stays of up to 15 days to six European countries — Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg —, after having initially adopted the same measure for Germany, Spain, France , Italy and the Netherlands, at the end of last year.

The measure placed Portugal among the few countries in Western Europe whose nationals do not benefit from the exemption to enter the territory of the world's second largest economy.

Pedro Reis noted that the issue was mentioned during the Sino-Lusophone summit, which kicked off on Sunday and runs until Tuesday in the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

“We found it to be a beautiful instrument, very pragmatic, very adjusted to the pace of economic cooperation that we want to promote here. Nowadays, we need to be very agile in this matter. Even more so when we see European partners with access to this regiment. Therefore, we signalled positively that there are already around 10 countries, in two waves, and it would be interesting for us to be able to access this instrument too”, he said.

Regarding the reasons that led Beijing to not include Portugal until now, the Minister of Economy sent the answer to the Chinese side: “it is a question more for China than for Portugal”. “Portugal’s institutional duty is to make [access to the exemption] interesting and our commitment to also have access to this instrument”, he considered.

In March, the Portuguese ambassador in Beijing, Paulo Nascimento, told Lusa he “does not understand” the criteria that led Chinese authorities to exclude Portugal. “I don't believe there is negative discrimination here, in the sense of saying that China is doing this to signal something to Portugal, I don't think that is the case,” he said. “But I can’t understand the criteria,” he said.

For his part, the Chinese ambassador in Lisbon, Zhao Bentang, predicted that the inclusion will take place in the next phase of visa exemption, a gradual process based on the volume of commercial exchanges, personal exchanges and cooperation projects between the two countries.

“In the next phase, with the expansion, I think Portugal will join the visa exemption list. To promote a measure, a policy, a gradual process is always necessary”, explained the diplomat in March to the Lusa agency, noting that the first countries on Beijing's list “have a greater number of personal and business exchanges or have more cooperation projects ”, and soon a greater need to travel to China.

China's adoption of a visa-free policy for nationals of several countries, which also includes Malaysia or Singapore, comes after an 80% drop in foreign direct investment in the country, in 2023, compared to the previous year, and a reduction 60% of the number of visitors last year, compared to 2019, the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic.