China reopening most likely late Jan/Feb 2023

The recent lockdowns in Shanghai and Guangdong are unmistakable signs that China will not be backing down from its zero-Covid policy, at least for the rest of 2022.

In today’s Face-to-Face interview, Professor Wolfgang Arlt, founder and CEO of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) discusses whether these lockdowns have pushed back his expected China reopening timeline.

He also talks about the significance of the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Chinese Community Party in October and what this means for China’s hardline policy stances, such as that of zero-covid. 

AGBrief: There’s been some harrowing images coming out of Shanghai. What’s that telling you about China’s reopening timeline?

Wolfgang Arlt: Unfortunately what’s happened in Shanghai is something I’ve been predicting was going to happen for months now. Thailand’s Tourism Authority, just a few days ago said they hoped from October, Chinese tourists will be able to travel again. 

This is one of the dates that has been going around and is connected to the 20th National Party Congress. In the best-case scenario, should the Covid-19 situation ease from here, Xi Jinping may decide to open up travel as a “gift” to the Chinese people around that time. But of course, another likely possibility is the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) next year when any outbound Chinese tourism starts again. 

AGBrief: Given what’s happened in Shanghai, it does seem like October may be too soon for a reopening. 

Wolfgang Arlt: It is always difficult to see what’s happening inside the power structures in China. But I hear that there is a lot of in-fighting with Xi Jinping trying to get a third term and Li Keqiang stepping down as his number two. I imagine there are a lot of internal discussions going on about this and not so much discussion about a potential reopening. 

AGBrief: Can you explain why the National Congress is such a key event when it comes to the zero-covid policy and China’s reopening? 

Wolfgang Arlt: From the outside, Xi Jinping’s power seems to be limitless, but there is an internal fight for power going which has made any changes to policies hard to push through. I expect that after Xi Jinping is reelected for a third term, then the fight will have been won and there can be a lot of new policies put into place without having to defend them. Whereas now, people will see a change in Covid-19 policy as an admission of failure.

From the date that Xi Jinping is re-elected for a third term, there will be a lot more room for maneuvering for new developments, and the situation will be more relaxed in China. So this is why it’s such an important turning point.

AGBrief: You’ll be speaking at the ASEAN Gaming Summit on 25-27 July 2022 in Manila. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be speaking about? 

Wolfgang Arlt: Yes, I’m very much looking forward to it. AGB’s meetings are always very productive and useful. The topic will be how to market to your guests in China, and how they’ve changed after two years of domestic tourism developments. I’ll talk about how integrated resorts need to proactively prepare for the reopening of China’s borders. 

AGBrief: Absolutely. It’s always a pleasure to have you at the event. We look forward to it.

Wolfgang Arlt: Indeed, I think we are all fed up with talking only on Zoom, and I really look forward to having the possibility to talk privately and to have a drink together, which are an important part of any conference.


“From the date that Xi Jinping is re-elected for a third term, there will be a lot more room for maneuvering for new developments, and the situation will be more relaxed in China”