Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - Page 3 News List

New measures will boost tourist numbers, MAC says

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

To boost the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, new measures are set to be implemented in the near future, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said at a press conference in Taipei on Thursday.

MAC Vice Chairman Fu Don-cheng (傅棟成) said that taking into account the low number of Chinese visitors, both sides of the Taiwan Strait had agreed to make some adjustments to the rules.

They include lowering the minimum number of Chinese tourists in a group traveling to Taiwan from 10 people to five, extending the maximum length of each visit from 10 days to 15 days, cutting travel agencies’ security deposit from NT$2 million (US$60,000) to NT$1 million and reducing the payment for each Chinese tourist that goes missing from NT$200,000 to NT$100,000.

Fu made the announcement in response to media inquiries about how the MAC hoped to increase the numbers of Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holidays.

After a 10-year hiatus, both sides of the strait resumed talks in June. Two agreements were signed at the time allowing weekend charter flights and increasing the number of Chinese allowed to visit Taiwan.

While both sides established a quota of 3,000 tourists per day, the number of trips to Taiwan by Chinese tourists is far lower than expected when the agreement was signed. The low numbers have been a disappointment to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who had hoped more arrivals from China could spur the stagnant local tourism sector.

While MAC Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said that the council and the government had upheld the nation’s sovereignty and honor when implementing cross-strait polices based on the principle of equality and dignity, reporters did not seem to be convinced and felt frustrated over Lai’s evasiveness on many issues.

On the allegations that Taiwanese vessels were seeking protection from Chinese warships in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, Lai said the vessel that asked for Chinese protection was not Taiwanese as it was flying a flag of convenience, was registered in Liberia and was operated by a South Korean firm.

While Taiwanese fishing boats could file for protection from Chinese warships through the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), the government had not authorized the SEF to take up such a task, she said.

Lai said of the 18,000 ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, 500 to 600 were owned by Taiwanese firms. An average of 10 to 12 Taiwanese ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each week, she said.

In the next two months, 94 ships owned by Taiwanese firms will sail through the waters, but all of them will be flying a flag of convenience.

Sending a warship to protect the safety of Taiwanese vessels is just one of the many possibilities the government was considering, she said, but the main concern was the safety of the boats and their crews. For humanitarian reasons, the government would not reject any assistance immediately available, she said.

Regarding the third round of cross-strait negotiations, Lai said she did not expect them to happen during the first quarter of the year, but that they would definitely take place in the first half.

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