The number of travelers between Taiwan and Russia has soared this year, and exchanges in areas such as energy, agriculture and education are promising, said Sergey Petrov, the Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission on Economic and Cultural Cooperation Office representative in Taipei.
Taiwan in September last year launched a trial program to grant 14-day visa-free entry to Russian citizens, although Russia does not have a reciprocal program.
Russian carrier Royal Flight on May 25 resumed weekly flights between Taipei and Moscow following a three-year hiatus, while Siberia Airlines on May 24 launched weekly flights between Taipei and Vladivostok.
Photo: Chen Chih-chu, Taipei Times
The flight to Vladivostok, one of the biggest cities in east Russia, takes about four hours, showing that “Russia is not that far” from Taiwan, Petrov said in an interview with the Taipei Times and the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) on Thursday.
The airlines would see how the flights work and evaluate market demand, while an increase in tourist exchanges would expand bilateral ties in other areas, said the envoy, who assumed the post in April last year.
From January to last month, the office issued 9,165 visas to Taiwanese, up 56 percent from a year earlier, while 3,794 Russians visited Taiwan in the first quarter of this year, up 84 percent from the same period last year, office statistics showed.
There are 430 Russian students and 12 teachers in Taiwan, while 172 Taiwanese students and 13 teachers reside in Russia, it added.
Asked whether the office plans more educational exchanges, Petrov said that it has increased its stipend quota for Taiwanese undergraduates studying in Russia to eight from three last year.
Academic exchanges are active, given more than 30 Taiwanese universities have established ties with schools in Russia, he said, adding that the office would also explore short-term language exchange programs.
While some Taiwanese have complained about having difficulty obtaining a Russian visa, Petrov said the office’s only obstacle is “high demand” during peak tourism season, when applicants need to wait longer.
Asked whether Moscow might adjust its visa policy for Taiwanese, he said its general attitude is to make travel easier, but added that “it is difficult to predict or promise something,” as it is a long bureaucratic process.
Asked what attracts Russia to the Taiwanese market, Petrov said Taiwan has a growing economy and a large energy market.
Taiwan has imported liquefied natural gas from Russia, the production of which is believed to be cleaner, and Russia is ready to offer more, he said.
Biletaral trade last year totaled US$6.6 billion, showing that there is an interest from businesses on both sides, Petrov said.
Russia is a large market and when the Eurasian Economic Union — which is comprised of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia — is taken into account, it is an even bigger market with a total population of more than 180 million people, he said.
Electronics products manufactured by Taiwanese firms, such as Acer Inc and HTC Corp, are very popular in Russia, and the interest would only grow, Petrov said.
Petrov added that he was amazed by the quality and taste of Taiwanese food.
For example, Taiwanese pineapples are much sweeter and tastier than those back home, while dragon fruits are virtually non-existent in Russia, making them attractive to Russians, he said.
Russia has signature products to offer in turn, such as beer, nuts and ice cream, Petrov added.
Noting that Russia is not well-known to Taiwanese, and vice versa, Petrov said: “If we have more exchanges, we will probably know more about each other and help increase our collaboration in other practical spheres.”
The Russian Food Festival opened on Saturday at the Howard Plaza Hotel in Taipei and runs through June 30, the office said.
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