Six decades of suspicion finally over

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am


Some came for medical check-ups, some to check out the property market. One planned to collect her father's ashes.

Close to 300 'solo' mainland tourists arrived in Taiwan yesterday, the first mainlanders in more than six decades to be allowed to make visits, individually or in small groups, to the island following a warming of cross-strait relations in recent times.

A Taiwanese plane carrying 46 tourists landed at Taipei Songshan Airport at around 10am after a short flight from Taiwan's former defensive outpost of Quemoy. The visitors first took boats from the mainland coastal city of Xiamen to Quemoy and boarded a flight from Quemoy to Taipei.

'I feel great being able to come here, and I want to visit Sun Moon Lake after visiting a relative in New Taipei City,' said 91-year-old grandmother Liao Liliang , referring to one of Taiwan's must-see scenic spots.

Taiwan and the mainland - former political enemies - have been mending fences since 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou, of the increasingly mainland-friendly Kuomintang party, became Taiwan's president, adopting a policy of engagement with Beijing.

The two sides since have signed a series of agreements, including one permitting mainland tourists to visit Taiwan. Visitors have been allowed to travel to the island in large groups since July 2008, then earlier this month Taipei agreed to lift its ban on solo tourists - either individuals or families. Initially, up to 500 tourists a day are allowed to visit for up to 15 days at a time.

The ban had been in place since 1949 because of fears that unsupervised mainland tourists might overstay and start working illegally or engage in espionage.

A 12-year-old boy who was the youngest of the first batch of mainland tourists said he did not like mountain climbing but wanted to visit Taipei 101. His wish was granted as the management of Taipei 101 - one of the tallest skyscrapers in Asia - arranged a tour for him and others, incorporating a panoramic view of Taipei from its 89th floor.

Aside from those arriving from Xiamen, tourists from Beijing and Shanghai also took advantage of the latest easing of visiting restrictions.

Taiwan says it will review the scheme in three months before deciding whether to raise the quota and open up to more mainland cities.

The purposes of yesterday's visits - from as short as three days to as long as nine - ranged from simple sightseeing to medical check-ups and property market surveys.

Hu Xiaoyun, a senior travel agency official from Shanghai, and Chen Chun, a property development executive from Xiamen, said they were medical tourists and planned to check into a Taipei hospital for physical examinations. 'The cost is much cheaper in Taiwan than in Japan,' Hu said.

Some 30 tourists from Beijing and Xiamen said they planned to check out the local real estate market as properties on the island were still relatively cheap compared to those on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

One visitor from Beijing said she wanted to collect the ashes of her late father for burial in Beijing. 'The individual visiting programme gives me this opportunity to take the remains of my father back,' she said.

Taiwan said the programme would admit more than 170,000 individual mainland tourists and generate at least NT$2.4 billion (HK$650 million) in economic gains for the island each year.