Tue, Aug 06, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Visa-free program may be expanded: minister

‘HOSTAGE TOURISM’:Beijing’s strategies to intimidate Taiwan by manipulating Chinese travelers before the polls is typical of an autocratic state, Lin Chia-lung said

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

The emblem of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications is pictured in an undated photograph.

Photo: Cheng Wei-chi, Taipei Times

The government is considering including more countries in its visa-waiver program to attract more tourists after China last week suspended a program that had allowed individual tourists from 47 Chinese cities to travel to Taiwan, Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said yesterday.

Aside from suspending visits by independent travelers, media reports said Beijing is planning to reduce the number of Chinese tour groups starting on Sept. 1.

They also said that China would expand the restrictions to include Chinese tourists traveling to Penghu, Kinmen and Lienchiang (Matsu) — also known as the “small three links” — between the two nations, but Taiwanese and Chinese authorities denied the reports.

“China is attempting to interfere in our elections in January by suspending visits by Chinese tourists before then,” Lin said.

“This is not the first time and it would not be the last time,” he said.

“Beijing did not do this only to Taiwan. It also prevented Chinese tourists from visiting South Korea when the US deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system there in 2017. It had also restricted Chinese tourists from traveling to Japan,” he said.

This is how an autocratic state manipulates diplomacy by holding its own people hostage, he added.

Taiwanese welcome Chinese tourists, but Taiwan is not dependent on their visits to sustain its tourism industry’s long-term development, he added.

The repercussions caused by Beijing’s frequent use of Chinese tourists for its political purposes have gradually diminished, the minister said.

In 2014, 40 percent of the nation’s international visitors came from China, but the ratio declined to 24 percent last year, he added.

This is a diverse and healthy development for the nation’s market for international travelers, he said.

“The key is that we have already prepared a counterstrategy. In addition to a plan to allocate NT$3.6 billion [US$113.8 million] to boost domestic tourism, which is expected to generate tourism benefits topping NT$26 billion,” he said.

“We are also planning to attract more international tourists by either further simplifying the visa application process for visitors from Southeast Asian countries or including more countries in the visa-waiver program,” he said.

The government is reviewing certain countries covered by the New Southbound Policy, including Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, Lin said.

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