Sat, Nov 24, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Doors open to sightseers from China

OLIVE BRANCH In what many regard as a ground-breaking attempt to break the cross-strait stalemate, the Cabinet yesterday approved plans to accept tourists from the mainland

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet yesterday approved measures to officially open Taiwan from Jan. 1 to Chinese nationals studying, traveling or living abroad.

Beijing declined to comment on this most recent olive branch from Taipei, saying that it would be inappropriate to do so during Taiwanese elections, but Chinese travel agencies and regional officials welcomed the move.

"[Taiwan] sincerely hopes that China will respond positively to this door-opening policy, a goodwill gesture coming at such a critical juncture, by resuming cross-strait negotiations soon [to discuss] the matter," Chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said after the Cabinet's provisional ministerial meeting yesterday.

Tsai added that the measures signify the government's determination to solve the current cross-strait political stalemate by acting on the consensus reached at the president's Economic Development Advisory Conference.

She stressed however that the new rules would apply only to Chinese nationals living, studying or traveling in third countries -- including Hong Kong and Macau -- and that only 1,000 tourists per day would be entitled to enter the country.

"The restriction prevents Chinese tourists from [intentionally] overstaying and it's easier to manage," Tsai said, adding that the government would gradually open the nation to more Chinese.

Tsai did not lay down a timetable to do so, however, and added that national security would continue to be central to the council's considerations.

But she added that if Chinese authorities respond favorably to the move and help facilitate the plan, it would have a positive impact on efforts to improve cross-strait exchanges.

Indeed, she called for cross-strait discussion on issues arising from the policy, including criteria for eligibility, repatriation of illegal entrants or those who overstay, the arbitration of travel disputes, and cooperation between travel agencies.

Yang Li-po (楊歷波), a government official from the Xiamen city government, expressed his personal desire to travel to Taiwan and said that the move would be beneficial to interaction between the two sides.

"We are very attracted to Taiwan, since it is so mysterious to us. Even though a trip to Taiwan costs more than trips to other countries, we still want to go," he said.

Lo Te-yi (駱德意), an official with China's state-operated travel agency, the Strait travel agency, echoed Yang's comment.

"There have been so many people asking about tours to Taiwan, and price is not an issue," Lo said.

Under the plan, Chinese tourists, who would have to prove that they maintain full-time employment or have at least NT$200,000 in assets, will be allowed to enter and leave Taiwan in tour groups of between 15 and 40 people, including a tour guide. They will be limited to stays of up to ten days, extendable by up to seven days.

To fund potential repatriation or detention expenses, a deposit of NT$1 million per head will be payable by Taiwanese travel agents after visas are granted to their Chinese clients.

In the event of overstays by their clients, Chinese travel associations could be banned from bringing groups to Taiwan for at least a year.

Permission to visit Taiwan will not be granted to Chinese civil servants, military or political officials or citizens who have broken the law within five years of their application.

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