The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday denied it had “dressed up” figures to attain its goal of “visa-free entry to 100 countries” by including Fiji, which a lawmaker said had granted Republic of China (ROC) passport holders visa-waiver privileges more than two years ago.
“It’s a fake accomplishment,” said DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬), who accused the government of delaying the Fiji announcement so it would be unveiled closer to the announcement of its “100 goal.”
To support his claim, Gao displayed a document issued by Fiji’s Department of Immigration on April 15, 2009, showing that Taiwan was on the South Pacific country’s list of visa-exempt countries.
James Tien (田中光), director-general of the ministry’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the letter sent by Fiji about the visa-waiver was dated April 15, 2009, but the ministry was informed of the change much later.
“Fiji did not officially inform us that Taiwan is one of its visa-exempt countries until Sept. 22 last year,” he said by telephone. “Before then, we had landing visa access.”
“It was the first time Fiji officially informed Taiwan of the visa-free access,” he said.
On Oct. 2 last year, the ministry announced that Taiwanese would be eligible to enter Fiji visa-free for a stay of up to four months, adding that Fiji was the 33rd country or territory to offer Taiwanese the privilege.
The ministry last year announced the objective of attaining visa-free entry to 100 countries and areas to celebrate the ROC centenary.
Representative to Fiji Victor Chin (秦日新) said by phone that the reason the decision was made on April 15, 2009, and implemented on Sept. 22 last year could be that Fiji had concerns over how Beijing would react, as China has been its largest aid donor since a Fijian coup d’etat in December 2006.
The rapprochement in cross-strait relations could be the reason Fiji felt confident it could offer visa-free treatment to visitors from Taiwan, Chin said.
In response to Gao’s claims that Taiwanese entered Fiji visa-free long before the ministry made the announcement, Chin said people could be confusing landing-visa access with visa-free treatment because of the ambiguous distinction between tourists going through immigration with a landing visa and visa-free treatment at Fiji’s airport.
According to the government, the number of countries or areas that offer visa-free entry to ROC passport holders has reached 116, with last week’s addition of Albania and the announcement yesterday that Taiwanese could now enter Brunei with a landing visa and stay for up to 14 days.
The number of countries and territories that ROC citizens can enter without visa or with a landing visa has increased by 62, or 115 percent, since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in May 2008, the ministry said.
Gao, however, questioned that number, saying it included a number of countries that still required visas upon arrival.
Based on the DPP’s calculation, the real figure is closer to 89, Gao said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO