Taiwan set to provide landing visas to Chinese tourists


TAIPEI — Taiwan said Tuesday it plans to offer landing visas to Chinese tourists travelling to two Taiwanese-controlled islands off the mainland, in another goodwill gesture to Beijing.

The proposal, expected to be approved at the cabinet’s regular meeting Thursday, calls for granting landing visas to Chinese tourists who visit Kinmen and Matsu, off China’s southeastern Fujian province, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said.

However, the planned measure will not allow Chinese tourists to travel to Taiwan, it said. They will still need to get Taipei’s visa prior to their tour of Taiwan.

The proposal is the latest in a string of olive branches from Taipei to Beijing since the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took the office on May 20.

The two sides launched regular direct flights for the first time in nearly six decades in July.

His government has also allowed more Chinese tourists to visit the island and relaxed controls on China-bound investments, issues which had been shunned by the former government of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Militarily, the defence ministry plans to scale back spending in 2009 to 315.2 billion Taiwan dollars (10 billion US), a decline of 10.4 billion Taiwan dollars from 2008, local newspapers reported last week.

On the diplomatic front, Ma has called for an end to the decades-old competition for international diplomatic recognition between Taipei and Beijing.

Both sides have often used generous financial packages to influence governments, particularly in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, to ensure loyalty or persuade them to switch recognition.

Only 23 nations formally recognise Taiwan over China.

The China-friendly measures, together with the sagging economy, irked the island’s independence supporters, sparking a mass rally in the capital city Sunday.

However, MAC chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan defended Ma’s mainland policy, alleging Beijing “has responded positively” to Taipei over the last three months.

“More concrete results are expected from the coming negotiation,” Lai told reporters.

She referred to the second meeting between envoys of the two sides to be staged in Taipei later this year, with agenda including cargo flights and issues related to Chinese tourists.