President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that the number of countries that have granted visa-waiver privileges to Republic of China (ROC) passport holders has increased to 97, indicating that the government’s “flexible diplomacy” strategy is showing results.
“The Balkan country of Croatia began offering visa exemptions to Taiwanese visitors at the beginning of this year, bringing the number of countries and territories granting this type of access to Taiwanese to 97,” Ma said at a function to celebrate the EU’s inclusion of Taiwan in its visa-waiver program.
The Croatian move came as a surprise, since the ceremony at the Taipei Guest House was originally arranged to mark the 96 countries and territories extending visa-free privileges, Ma said.
He also hailed the EU’s decision to have visa exemptions for Taiwan take effect on Jan. 11, which he said was a memorable and meaningful day because on that date in 1943, the ROC managed to abrogate all the unequal treaties with foreign powers that had been in place for more than a century.
“This is truly a happy coincidence,” Ma said.
According to the EU decision, Taiwanese visitors will be able to enter 35 European countries visa-free beginning on Tuesday and stay for as long as 90 days within a six-month period.
The waiver applies to the 25 Schengen Area countries, which comprise 22 EU member states and three non-EU states — Norway, Iceland and Switzerland — in addition to three non-Schengen EU member states — Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
The visa-waiver privileges also include seven smaller European countries and territories — the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Ma said he believes that these countries will benefit from the visa exemption for Taiwanese visitors because “Taiwanese citizens are not only good tourists, but they are also known for their ability to shop.”
For instance, he said, since the UK became the first European country to grant visa-free -privileges to Taiwanese in 2009, the number of Taiwanese tourists has increased substantially and bilateral trade has grown by between 20 percent and 30 percent.
Head of the European Economic and Trade Office Guy Ledoux said Taiwan’s booming economy and democratic system were the main factors contributing to the nation’s successful application for EU visa-free privileges.
With its advanced economic system, Taiwan has developed a reliable administrative system and is able to issue high-quality passports and effectively prevent passport tampering or forgery, Ledoux said.
Since Taiwanese people are peaceful, affluent and enjoy freedom of speech and civil rights, there are few incentives for Taiwanese citizens to illegally emigrate to other countries, he added.
According to official statistics, on average only 45 ROC passport holders per year were caught overstaying their visas in EU countries between 2006 and 2008, and only 38 Taiwanese people were denied entry during that same period.
Ledoux said the visa-waiver agreement is expected to help enhance Taiwanese interest in investing and traveling in Europe, as well as increase incentives for Taiwanese and European cities to forge ties.
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