Taiwan may allow more mainland Chinese visitors
By Kathrin Hille in Taipei
Published: October 21 2005 13:00 | Last updated: October 21 2005 13:00
China will send a delegation to Taiwan next week to review the island's tourist attractions and infrastructure, in a sign that the two may finally be making progress towards allowing more mainland citizens to visit Taiwan.
“Shao Qiwei, head of the mainland's State Tourism Office, will lead a 66-strong group of officials, industry representatives and reporters to visit Taiwan from October 28,” Johnnason Liu, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's cabinet-level China policy body, said on Friday.
So far, only an average of 5,000 Chinese citizens a month visit Taiwan. If the two sides agree to relax restrictions, this number could increase six-fold. Taiwan's government has said it is ready to admit up to 1,000 Chinese tourists a day.
Politicians and tourism representatives in Taiwan interpreted Mr Shao's visit as a preparatory step by China's government to add the island to the list of its official travel destinations.
“[China] has always sent delegations to inspect attractions and infrastructure before it opened new tourism destinations,” the MAC said.
Such a deal would mark the first significant progress in cross-Strait economic exchanges for years.
It would also give the island's economy a welcome boost. Even conservative government estimates say it could accelerate gross domestic product growth by more than 1 percentage point and create thousands of jobs.
Domestic demand would also get a badly needed boost. Taiwan's economy is expected to grow little more than 3 per cent this year, trailing the performance of every Asian country except Japan.
Beijing has bilateral agreements with countries or areas it lists as official destinations, which cover the supervision of tour operators and care for any citizen having an accident abroad.
It is easy for ordinary Chinese citizens to get travel permits, for purposes other than business, only for official destinations.
Opposition politicians and tourism industry executives said they believed Mr Shao's visit would also be used for unofficial negotiations with Taipei officials.
Since the disagreement between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwan's status prevents the two governments from conducting direct talks, Taipei has authorised the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China/Taiwan to negotiate with Chinese counterparts.