Hong kong-Taiwan visa breakthrough
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Hong Kong is to offer free visas online for Taiwanese visitors from September 1, in another breakthrough in relations between the two sides.
The city moved to reciprocate Taiwan's free online visas for Hongkongers, which have been available since September 2010.
'By introducing the new measure, we hope to encourage more Taiwanese people to visit Hong Kong,' Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday on a visit to Taipei, where he inaugurated the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office - Hong Kong's first representative office on the island.
Taiwan had been urging Hong Kong to at least reciprocate the service, if not waive visa requirements completely for travellers from the island.
Tsang said the delay was due to the time it took for the Immigration Department to update its computer and data system in order to accommodate the new service.
Under the new measure, the free online visas will be valid for two months. Taiwanese visitors just print out the visas and show them to immigration officials in Hong Kong.
The permits allow for a stay of up to 30 days and can be used twice within the two-month period. There is no limit on applying for a new online visa after the first one expires, officials say.
More than two million Taiwanese came to Hong Kong last year, making them the second-largest group of visitors.
On the opening of the representative office in Taipei, Tsang said he expected bilateral exchanges and co-operation to expand further. 'With the efforts of the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office, Hong Kong and Taiwan will continue to make progress in all areas of co-operation, achieving a win-win situation,' he said.
But more importantly, Tsang said, he hoped the office would help Taiwanese people 'get a better understanding of Hong Kong'.
The two sides agreed in 2010 to each set up a representative office. Taiwan opened its office in Hong Kong last year.
During yesterday's inauguration ceremony, four Hongkongers studying in Taiwan staged a brief protest to call for direct elections in Hong Kong.
Tsang arrived in Taipei on Monday for a three-day visit in his capacity as honorary chairman of the Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council. He later met his Taiwanese counterpart in that role, Lin Chen-kuo, to review operations ahead of a joint meeting later this year.
Tsang also met Dr Lai Shin-yuan, chairwoman of the island's Mainland Affairs Council, and closer ties were again on the agenda.
Ties between Taiwan and Hong Kong used to stagnate before Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang became president in 2008. Ma's policy to engage the mainland later led to a warming in relations and renewed talks between Hong Kong and Taipei in 2009.