Tue, Oct 11, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Economics of Chinese tour groups

By Tsai Hung-jeng 蔡宏政

Chinese tourists’ activities in Taiwan give rise to two interconnected questions. First: Do these tourists bring benefits to Taiwan’s economy? Second: Will Chinese tourism allow Beijing to develop business connections in Taiwan and use them to put pressure on politicians and the government?

Taiwan’s point of view is that it hopes to gain economic benefits without causing political and social conflicts. China’s point of view, on the other hand, is that it wants to pay the lowest possible economic price to gain the greatest possible political leverage, and to achieve social integration based on the idea that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one big family.”

Only a small number of Chinese travel agencies are allowed to organize overseas tours and they employ an “all-in-one” mode of operation.

The tide of Chinese tourists to Taiwan has been growing rapidly since 2008, and over the years China has developed a network of collaborating partners at the local level in Taiwan who do not want the nation’s authorities to upset Beijing in any way. The strategy has enabled China’s political tourism to penetrate and divide Taiwanese society at the grassroots level, targeting the Achilles’ heel of Taiwan’s electoral politics. Consequently, China’s “united front policy by means of tourism” has developed in the direction desired by Beijing.

Article 2 of China’s Measures for the Administration of the Overseas Tours of Chinese Citizens (中國公民出國旅遊管理辦法) stipulates that China’s central government — the Chinese State Council — decides which nations can be visited by Chinese tourists and what kinds of tourist activities are permitted. Article 6 stipulates that the central government determines the number of people who can travel abroad, and quotas are then distributed to provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, which control the outgoing tourism business.

The council’s macro-control has an important purpose, which is to maintain a balance between the loss of foreign exchange through overseas travel and foreign exchange gains from incoming tourists. From this perspective, it can be understood that in the eyes of the Chinese government, allowing tourists to visit other nations and setting the number of people who can go abroad is a kind of concession made to those nations by China.

Through this process, China has developed a control strategy whereby the concessions made to each nation are required to generate a maximum return on investment.

These factors explain the “all-in-one” travel and business model that characterizes Chinese tourism and the political logic behind it. This explains why overseas tourism, which is a purely commercial activity in civic societies, becomes an extension of foreign policy under China’s Leninist authoritarian system. It naturally follows that tourism to Taiwan is a top priority for carrying out united front work in a commercial guise.

Article 2 of China’s Measures for the Administration of the Travel of Mainland Residents to the Taiwan Region states: “The travel of mainland residents to Taiwan Region shall be organized by a travel agency that has been designated to engage in the tourist business of mainland residents to Taiwan, and the tourists shall come to and return from Taiwan with the whole team and carry out activities as a collective while staying in Taiwan.”

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