TAIPEI, Taiwan – With the Executive Yuan poised to raise the cap on the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan via the Free Independent Travel (FIT) program, an opposition lawmaker likened the move to a deal with the devil, saying that violations of the law by Chinese tourists are on the rise, with last year’s total almost double that of 2013.
The National Development Council proposed “economy-boosting measures” earlier this month, including raising the cap on the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan via the FIT program from 4,000 to 5,000 per day and raising the limit for those traveling via the “small three links” through Kinmen and Matsu from 500 to 1,000 per day.
There is no change planned to the daily number allowed for Chinese traveling as members of tour groups.
Tourism Bureau Director-General David Hsieh yesterday said that the measures are expected to come into effect late next month after the National Immigration Agency has completed the relevant preparations.
However, according to agency statistics, the number of Chinese tourists found to have broken the law was 2,788 last year, the highest figure ever, and almost double the 1,415 recorded in 2013.
Of last year’s criminal cases involving Chinese tourists, 1,492 were accused of visa overstays, 618 of counterfeiting ID documents or making false claims about ID documents, 492 of sham marriages, 91 of working illegally and 29 of prostitution.
In the first half of this year alone, 1,124 Chinese tourists were accused of breaking the law.
Last month, a drone piloted by Chinese tourist Yang Yunfan — who was traveling via the FIT program — hit Taipei 101; in October last year, Chinese tourist Wu Xin, also traveling via the FIT program, gained access to an off-limits machine room in a Chunghwa Telecom office in Taipei and took pictures which he posted online, calling himself “the first Chinese to have ever entered a Taiwanese military base.”
There were also Chinese who concealed their political or military backgrounds and who have disappeared after entering the nation.
A Control Yuan report released in March found that the current FIT application is filled out online by the applicants themselves, with the visa being issued about 48 hours after the forms and documents have been submitted.
This means that a review thorough enough to uncover any deliberate dishonesty on the part of applicants is unlikely to take place.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Yeh Chin-ling cast doubt on the government’s attempt to save the nation’s economy and tourism industry by granting access to more Chinese tourists, saying the move has driven away tourists from other places such as Japan, the US and Europe.
In 2008, 38 percent of tourists visiting Taiwan were Japanese, but last year, the percentage dropped to 16 percent, she said.
Chinese tourists, many of whom travel on low or even zero budget packages as part of travel agencies’ marketing and promotion schemes, have a consumptive power that is only two-thirds that of Japanese, US and European tourists, Yeh said.
The value created pales in comparison with the costs that Taiwan has to pay in terms of national security, environmental protection and the burden on transportation, she said.
Hsieh said the cap raised this time is for more Chinese FIT tourists to travel to Taiwan, not tour groups, so the benefits they bring would be more “balanced across different sectors.”