Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 8 News List

The implications of visa-free access

By Su Yung-yao 蘇永耀

During a visit to the Marshall Islands on Tuesday last week, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced that Taiwan would soon extend visa-free access to nationals of its six South Pacific diplomatic allies: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Palau and Tuvalu.

Faced with China’s economic offensive aimed at undermining its diplomatic relations, Taiwan cannot rely on purely conventional means to consolidate its diplomatic friendships and the government’s visa waiver announcements is a departure from the usual one-way economic aid programs.

Nonetheless, this new turn in diplomatic thinking must involve a balanced approach that takes border security into account.

Since the Tsai administration took office in May last year, it has extended visa waivers or otherwise relaxed visa requirements for ASEAN members to promote its New Southbound Policy.

Even though some countries have not immediately reciprocated the offer, the government has still gone ahead with such measures in the hope of progress.

In view of Taiwan’s increasingly difficult diplomatic situation, the government has proceeded with this policy on a region-by-region basis. In July the government announced that Taiwan would grant visa waivers to its 11 diplomatic allies in Latin America and the Caribbean, and now it has done the same for six in the South Pacific.

Some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are not well off economically, so not many of their citizens are likely to visit Taiwan.

Nonetheless, the administration’s departure from the usual talks with partners’ governments about providing economic aid and instead directly appealing to citizens demonstrates Taiwan’s unprejudiced attitude and boosts its diplomatic legitimacy.

Looking back over Taiwan’s developmental experience, the reason Taiwanese have gained so much freedom of travel, with visa-free access to more than 100 countries and regions, is that the international community has come to recognize the good character of Taiwanese and the trustworthiness of their passports.

As for foreigners who want to visit Taiwan, the government only allows the citizens of 60 countries and regions to enter without a visa. Whether all the countries to which Taiwan’s government has extended visa waivers over the past year enjoy the same degree of trust around the world is open to debate.

Visas perform a gatekeeping function, especially now that governments are placing more emphasis on counterterrorism measures. With so many countries becoming eligible for visa-free entry to Taiwan, we have to consider whether travelers could arrive using forged or altered passports.

There are some countries where people earn much less than Taiwanese, so visitors from those places might be tempted to overstay, leading to economic and social problems. These questions call for a rigorous evaluation of national security.

It is important to allow people from other countries to come to Taiwan and see its beauty — not only to boost domestic demand through tourism and consumption, but also to raise new possibilities for interaction with other parts of the world.

Nonetheless, border security is an essential consideration, so if the government does not take a balanced approach, it might be hard for its visa-exemption measures to move Taiwan’s international interactions in an entirely positive direction.

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