First Solo Chinese Tourists Arrive in Taiwan

Posted June 28th, 2011 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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Unaccompanied Chinese tourists arrived in Taiwan for the first time Tuesday, in the latest sign of improving ties between the communist mainland and the self-ruled island.

The visitors were admitted under a deal struck earlier this month allowing 500 Chinese individuals to travel to the island each day. Tourists from the mainland previously could visit only in groups, due to concerns they may be spies or seeking to stay illegally on the island. The opportunity is open only to tourists from Beijing, Shanghai and the coastal city of Xiamen.

Lai Zhengyi, a company executive from Xiamen, was part of the first group of independent tourists to arrive in Taiwan. He told VOA he and the others face no legal restrictions on their movements, which he says will help Taiwan's overall economic development.

A Taiwan official said this week the tourists may be permitted to visit the island's legislature so they can gain an appreciation of the democratic process. Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages, tells VOA that exposure to Taiwanese democracy may lead the visitors to question whether democracy can happen in China as well.

Beijing and Taipei have been separately ruled since Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists escaped to Taiwan at the end of China's civil war in 1949. China says Taiwan is part of its territory, and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Tensions have eased since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 and sought closer economic cooperation with China. Since then, Taiwan has welcomed millions of Chinese tourists, who have pumped nearly $4 billion into the island's economy.