Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Relations worth more than a visa

In a perfect world, countries treat each other with respect, equality and reciprocity, but this is not a perfect world. International politics is all about give and take and weighing the pros and cons, which is why the public should refrain from jumping to conclusions over each perceived slight.

On Monday, the Thailand Trade and Economic Office in Taipei announced that in light of the large demand for Thai visas, it had decided to outsource some of the work to a private visa agency, which is to charge a service fee of NT$470 on top of the NT$1,200 visa fee. It said that the measure would offer an alternative to visa applicants, who currently have to line up for hours at the office to submit their applications between 9am and 11am on weekdays.

However, the announcement has attracted an outpouring of criticism, some directed at the Thai office and some at President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) New Southbound Policy.

The policy is aimed at reducing the nation’s economic dependence on China, which deepened under former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) leadership. It is also designed to soften the blow from Beijing’s punitive policies against the Tsai administration, notably the reduction in the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan.

According to statistics compiled by the Tourism Bureau, more than 4.1 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan in 2015, but the number has been declining since Tsai took office in 2016. It dropped to 3.5 million in 2016 and further to 2.7 million last year.

While it would be hard to make up for the decline, the Tsai administration has attempted to offset the impact by looking to Southeast Asia for a solution.

It is against this backdrop that the government introduced visa-free entry to Thais and Bruneians on a trial basis in August 2016 and to Filipinos in November last year. Last month, the trial periods were extended for another year due to the program’s success in attracting more tourists from the three nations.

Tourism Bureau statistics showed that the number of Thai tourists to Taiwan climbed from 124,409 in 2015 to 195,640 in 2016 and further to 292,534 last year. The number of Filipino tourists to Taiwan also surged from 139,217 in 2015 to 290,784 last year.

Those numbers are why Thailand Trade and Economic Office Executive Director Thongchai Chasawath said on Tuesday, and in an interview late last month with the Taipei Times, that he did not understand the government’s and public’s insistence on asking for reciprocal visa-free treatment from Bangkok.

Chasawath said Taiwan has also benefited greatly from waiving visas for Thai nationals, and that that alone should be reason enough to maintain its current policy, rather than “threatening to revoke the treatment if Thailand does not reciprocate.”

Although Chasawath’s comments might sound harsh, they are not entirely unreasonable.

As Minister Without Portfolio Chang Ching-sen (張景森), who is in charge of the nation’s visa-waiver program, said on Tuesday, any decisions by the government on the provision of visa-waiver privileges to another nation is based mainly on whether the measure will benefit itself and its people.

“The reason why we offer visa-free treatment to Thai citizens is because we want to attract more tourists from the country to Taiwan. As long as they are still coming here, there is a reason to maintain the policy,” Chang said.

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