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China opens more doors to international tourists

The ancient doors of Beijing's Old Summer Palace may have been opened to the world for centuries but with the finishing touches being applied to a virtual tour of the complex, China is hoping people across the globe will become aware of its attractions - and plan an actual real visit to the site.

Since April 2009, the Tsingshua University and the offices of Yuanmingyuan - as the palace is known in China - have been putting together 146 photos and 22 video clips on their own website (http://www.re-relic.com) as they seek to rebuild the entire complex online.

The research team is now planning to have the entire project completed by October 18 - to mark the 150th anniversary of attacks on the palace by British and French forces which destroyed much of its beauty.

Once the summer residence of China's leaders, the palace fell into disrepair after those attacks - and Chinese authorities are still fighting to have relics looted by foreign forces returned to their rightful home.

But by rebuilding the entire Palace online, they say, more people will become aware of its history - and will want to come pay a visit when they tour the Chinese capital.

From October 18, the earliest layout of the Palace will be available - online - to the public for the very first time, researchers claim.

The move is one of two initiatives announced this week to make travelling to China easier - and more exciting.

Also this week, the eastern province of Zhejiang - which attracts more than 5.7 million foreign tourists a year - has announced that from Monday it will issue visas to groups of international travelers arriving at Xiaoshan airport in the provincial capital of Hangzhou.

Previously, international tourists had to be cleared for entry into China via much larger cities such as Shanghai or Beijing and then transit to Zhejiang, which boasts such famous sites as the West Lake, considered one of the country's most romantic spots.