Nearly 700 Chinese tourists are set to arrive in Taiwan on a foreign cruise ship, becoming the largest group of Chinese tourists to visit the island, which still regards China as its enemy.
The Chinese tourists will arrive aboard Asia’s largest cruise ship, the 78,491-ton Rhapsody of the Seas, which will dock for half- day tours on Monday at Taiwan’s Keelung Harbour and Tuesday at Kaohsiung Harbour.
The ship is carrying 2,435 international passengers – including 688 Chinese mainlanders – for the Hong Kong-Naha, Japan-Keelung- Kaohsiung-Hong Kong tour.
This will be the largest group of Chinese tourists to ever visit Taiwan, as currently Taiwan allows only a maximum of 1,000 Chinese tourists to enter the island.
Taiwan has imposed the upper limit on the number of Chinese tourists because it is not ready to open the door to Chinese tourists yet, and because it is afraid that some Chinese may want to stay behind to work illegally in Taiwan.
The Economic Daily News said that Taiwan has relaxed the restriction to boost tourist income.
“We have relaxed the restriction because these mainland tourists spend the night on board the ship, so the chance is small that some tour members will try to run away from the tour group. If this is proved good, we will further expand this relaxation,” Chen Ming-tong, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, was quoted by the Economic Daily News as saying on Sunday.
Taiwan and China have been split since 1949, when the Chinese Nationalists lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan to set up their government-in-exile.
Since then, Taiwan has banned direct sea, air and trade links with China for national security reasons.
Taiwan lifted the ban on people-to-people exchanges in 1988, and in recent years has allowed a small number of mainland Chinese to visit Taiwan for academic exchanges, sporting events and sightseeing.
The bans have hurt Taiwan’s economy, as China has become the world’s fastest-growing economy and the biggest production base and consumer market.
However, the situation may change soon if the KMT, Taiwan’s largest opposition party, wins the March 22 presidential election.
KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou has promised that if he becomes president, he will open sea, air and tourism links with China so that Taiwan and China can promote economic integration.
Ma has assured islanders that he will not discuss Taiwan-China unification with Beijing, because Taiwan’s future can only be decided by Taiwan’s 23 million residents, not by Beijing.