Foreign language support crucial in Chinese apps to enhance China's high-standard opening-up efforts
Published: Nov 26, 2023 06:57 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The lack of foreign languages in Chinese mobile apps not only hinders people from other countries from experiencing convenient living in China but also affects their day-to-day activities. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning announced on Friday that China has decided to apply a unilateral visa-free policy to more countries on a trial basis, which involves extending visa-free treatment to travelers holding ordinary passports from six countries, namely France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, to further facilitate cross-border travel and China's high-quality development and high-standard opening up.

From December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024, citizens from the above-mentioned countries holding ordinary passports can be exempted from visas to enter China and stay for no more than 15 days for business, tourism, family visits and transit purposes.

This progressive measure reflects China's commitment to further opening-up. We warmly invite more people from other countries, particularly Westerners, to explore China. And China will strive to make their stay in China as convenient as possible. This new policy showcases China's generosity and inclusivity. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of expats coming to China. The situation has gradually improved with the optimization of COVID-19 prevention and control measures this year. However, the current number of expats in China remains far below pre-pandemic levels. We firmly believe that the unilateral visa-free policy for citizens of the six aforementioned countries will expedite the recovery process. By breaking away from the traditional visa framework between China and many countries, the new policy will allow the international community to gain a clearer understanding of China's goodwill. At home, it will help reduce sensitive perceptions in public opinion and foster a stronger appreciation for openness to the outside world. 

However, a friend of mine who has been engaging in foreign affairs activities expressed concerns after hearing this news. While acknowledging the positive impact of the policy on foreign businessmen coming to China, he emphasized the need for cooperation from Chinese internet companies to maximize the policy's effectiveness. Specifically, he highlighted the urgent need to address the lack of foreign language options in many mobile apps used in our daily lives in China.

For instance, popular map navigation apps in China not only lack foreign language options but also lack foreign language maps and navigation. This poses difficulties for expats who do not understand Chinese and rely on the assistance of Chinese people to get around in China. Similarly, other services such as food delivery and ticketing also lack foreign language support. 

Recently, the Chinese edition of the Global Times published an article written by a Brazilian studying in China, which discusses the obstacles expats face when living in China, with the lack of foreign language support in Chinese internet services being a significant issue.

Some may argue that expats should learn Chinese, but it is important to note that the visa-free policy targets those who visit China for a short period, not exceeding 15 days. For foreign businessmen, it is more realistic for them to focus on dealing with cooperation-related matters with China during this limited time rather than attempting to learn the difficult Chinese language. Some Western software and games have long started using Chinese language options to attract Chinese users, recognizing the potential for increased sales and revenue.

Granted, the reason behind the lack of foreign language support in our mobile apps and internet services is primarily due to the limited demand and user base in the past. However, as our country emphasizes high-level opening-up to the world, the demand in this area will only grow. The visa-free policy for five European countries and Malaysia serves as a signal for this increasing demand. Alipay and WeChat have announced their support for enabling foreign users to link international cards, enhancing mobile payments. It shows that companies can make adjustments to keep up with their countries' policies. 

In fact, for fiercely competitive Chinese internet companies, those who will become the first to solve the issue of foreign language support may make the most of opportunities in China's high-level opening-up. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn