Mainlanders set for solo Taiwan travel

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am

Mainland tourists will be allowed to travel individually to Taiwan from April in yet another sign of warming cross-strait ties.

Mainland media reported that authorities on both sides had reached a consensus allowing Beijing and Shanghai residents to be the first ones to try out the new travel arrangement across the Taiwan Strait.

The pilot scheme, first announced last July by Taiwanese Premier Wu Den-yih, was intended to further boost the island's economy after the introduction of NT$29.5 billion (HK$7.8 billion) in mainland tariff waivers agreed by the two sides in a landmark trade pact.

According to Beijing Daily, up to 500 Beijing and Shanghai residents are expected to be allowed to apply for individual tourist visas to Taiwan per day starting from April 5, the date of this year's Ching Ming festival.

The scheme is only applicable to residents of the two cities who can meet two of the five following criteria: no criminal record, sufficient bank deposits, be a property owner, a minimum annual income of 150,000 yuan (HK$176,000) and a holder of gold-grade credit cards.

Applicants must gain approval from mainland authorities to travel to Taiwan before they may apply for visas. An individual tourist visa is valid for three months and allows the holder 15 days on the island.

Lu Xiaodong, 28, a social worker from Shanghai, said he was interested in the scheme but put off by the harsh income requirements.

'Taiwan used to be part of China's territory. I have always wanted to travel there. Shanghai people are earning better salaries than the rest of the country, but not many can comply with the minimum annual income requirement,' Lu said.

Mainland tourists have been allowed to visit the island since 2008 as a result of groundbreaking talks between the two former rivals, but only in tightly controlled tour groups. Those historic talks stemmed from Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of engaging Beijing.

Taiwan had long banned direct visits by mainlanders for fear that some could be spies while others might end up as illegal immigrants.

The 2008 deal allowed up to 3,600 mainland tourists a day. More than 1.2 million mainland tourists have visited Taiwan since the government opened the island for group visits. Last July, Taiwan's interior ministry said 40 had gone missing.