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Taiwan set to lift ban on China-bound tour groups in March 2024: Minister

11/03/2023 10:38 PM
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Visitors to Shanghai gather at the Bund for the view of the city's landmarks during China's National Day Golden Week holiday on Oct. 3, 2023. CNA file photo
Visitors to Shanghai gather at the Bund for the view of the city's landmarks during China's National Day Golden Week holiday on Oct. 3, 2023. CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 3 (CNA) Taiwan will lift its three-year ban on Taiwanese tour groups traveling to China and end restrictions on cross-strait travel in March 2024, Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said Friday.

At the plenary session of the Legislature, Wang said Taiwan is set to announce the policy change by Lunar New Year in 2024 and that the policy will take effect from March 1.

Wang made the announcement when questioned by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Yu Yu-lan (游毓蘭), who referred to the earlier remarks of Hsiao Po-jen (蕭博仁), president of Taiwan's Travel Agent Association, that the move will be made next year.

Asked whether the policy has been finalized, Wang said it is the consensus reached during discussions in the Cabinet, but there's a possibility it might be changed according to the result of the presidential election next January.

By allowing Taiwanese tour groups to visit China, the government will also reopen Taiwan's borders to tour groups from China, Wang added.

Nov. 3: Taiwan gov't expects inbound travel rebound, but challenges remain

That change was confirmed by a statement issued by the Tourism Administration the same day. It said that tourism companies can start arranging trip schedules for tour groups to China starting March 1, 2024.

Wang's remarks represent a change in the government's attitude expressed in May and a statement made by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan's top government agency in charge of cross-Taiwan Strait affairs, in late August.

Taipei did not respond positively on May 19 when Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光), spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that Chinese travel agencies would be allowed to resume business involving receiving Taiwanese group tourists from that day immediately.

Instead, then Tourism Bureau chief Chang Shi-chung (張錫聰) said regulations on group travel should be negotiated through existing channels -- the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Tourism Exchange Across the Taiwan Straits -- though Taiwan welcomed China's announcement.

That matter seemed to take a step forward when the MAC announced in late August that Taiwan would allow Chinese nationals living abroad to travel to Taiwan for sightseeing, starting Sept. 1.

Chinese tourists to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei on May 19, 2019 look at an installation recreating the iconic image of a man standing in front of a tank during China's crackdown of a student movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989. CNA file photo
Chinese tourists to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei on May 19, 2019 look at an installation recreating the iconic image of a man standing in front of a tank during China's crackdown of a student movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989. CNA file photo

The MAC also said Taiwan would allow Chinese nationals to apply to enter the country on short-term business visas from Aug. 28, and would also begin a one-month "preparation period" from that same day for plans to resume cross-strait group tours.

However, when to allow Taiwanese tour groups to China will be decided after China's response is taken into consideration, said the MAC, which did not make any further announcement on that matter as China remained unresponsive so far.

Asked by Yu on Friday why the government was now announcing a relaxing of restrictions, Wang said the government had hoped to see reciprocity from the Chinese side, meaning that China allow its tour groups to visit Taiwan, but some domestic travel agents complained they have been seriously impacted by the cross-strait travel ban over the past few years.

According to the statement issued by the Tourism Administration, the latest move signals a friendly gesture from Taiwan, and the ban could be lifted earlier if China responds to it positively.

Aug. 11: Taiwan to reopen its borders to Chinese tourists from third places: Premier

Beijing has banned independent Chinese tourists from visiting Taiwan since August 2019 and group travel since 2020, due to tensions with the current Taiwanese administration.

The MAC has not responded to Wang's announcement by press deadline.

(By Fan Cheng-hsian, Yu Hsiao-han and Chao Yen-hsiang)

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Chinese tourists do Lunar New Year shopping in Taipei's Dihua Street shopping area in this photo taken in early 2019 to show a trend of growing numbers of Chinese visitors traveling to Taiwan for the traditional holiday since 2010. Photo: China News Service
Chinese tourists do Lunar New Year shopping in Taipei's Dihua Street shopping area in this photo taken in early 2019 to show a trend of growing numbers of Chinese visitors traveling to Taiwan for the traditional holiday since 2010. Photo: China News Service
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