Taiwan eases travel to strait islets for mainland tourists
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Taiwan has further relaxed travel restrictions on mainland tourists by allowing them to enter the islands of Quemoy and Matsu with landing visas, another effect of warming cross-strait relations.
The latest measure, which would save tourists time and money compared with applying for regular visas, came into effect yesterday, a day after authorities officially allowed mainland tourists to visit Taiwan by way of the two islets - where Taiwan has forged limited direct links, or 'mini-links', with the mainland.
'As long as the tourists hold valid travel documents issued by the mainland authorities, they are qualified to get temporary stay permits or landing visas to enter Quemoy and Matsu,' a National Immigration Agency spokeswoman said.
She said mainlanders could also choose to apply for multiple-entry tourist visas good for one year to visit Quemoy and Matsu. But mainland tourists using landing visas or multiple-entry visas to visit Quemoy and Matsu will not be allowed to continue to the main island of Taiwan.
'So far, only those with pre-applied visas may carry on their visits to Taiwan proper,' she said.
Also, the tourists must come in groups of no fewer than five and no more than 40 members, she noted, adding that regulations would need to be revised before individual mainland visitors could visit either of the two islets or Taiwan proper.
Mainland Affairs Council vice-chairman Jonathan Liu Teh-hsun said the Taiwanese government had yet to consider allowing mainland tourists to visit individually. Individuals needed to be invited by proper organisations for professional, academic and other special visits, he said.
Mr Liu said those using the landing visas to enter Taiwan proper would be considered illegal visitors, subject to deportation and other punishment.
Observers said granting landing or multiple-entry visas for mainland tourists to visit Quemoy and Matsu was still considered a breakthrough in cross-strait relations as it could pave the way for all mainland tourists to visit Taiwan's main island with such visas in the future.
Under the government of proindependence former president Chen Shui-bian, who stepped down in May after eight years, Taiwan refused to issue landing visas for mainlanders to visit the two islets because of concerns it would encourage more illegal immigrants from Fujian .
But since Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang became president, policies have opened up the island, increasing exchanges and improving ties with Beijing.
The policies also include the operation of direct weekend charter flights across the strait.