At a time when China is emerging as the world’s second largest economy and a global superpower to be reckoned with, Taiwan’s vice-president managed to touch a nerve by mocking the fact that only a short list of nations grant China's citizens visa-free access.
“There is a so-called big country, very big,” vice-president Wu Den-yih said during a meeting in Taipei on Monday. “Yet, only 20 nations [grant its citizens] visa-free access,” he quipped, adding that “everyone knows [which country] but I am too embarrassed to name it” – triggering bursts of laughter among his audience.
Wu made the comments at a routine meeting of the Overseas Community Affairs Council, a government organ that serves ethnic Taiwanese and expatriates overseas. He also boasted how Taiwanese passport holders are granted visa-free access to 134 countries.
In comparison, CCTV said 19 countries and territories around the world currently granted Chinese citizens visa-free access. Henley & Partners, an immigration consultancy, said some 44 countries provided visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Chinese passport holders.
Taiwan, or the Republic of China, although independent politically, is not officially recognised as an independent nation state by the United Nations. Currently, Taiwan only has established diplomatic relations with about two dozen countries, largely from Latin America. However, Taiwan officials have for years boasted that the number of countries that grant its citizens visa-free access far surpasses that of China, deeming it a display of its de-facto diplomatic status.
Wu’s remarks came hard on the heels of comments made by China’s foreign minister Wang Yi earlier this month who vowed to “elevate the value of the PRC passport” when he paid a visit to the Chinese embassy in Paris on a trip to France. He acknowledged that over 83 million Chinese citizens travelled overseas last year and promised to continue efforts to make travelling abroad easier for his fellow countrymen.
Mainland Chinese tourists last year became the world’s top spenders, surpassing tourists from the US and Germany, according to a report by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation. The report said total expenditure by mainland Chinese jumped 40 per cent from a year earlier, reaching US$102 billion. It attributed the rapid growth to the appreciation of the yuan and the country’s skyrocketing economic development.
Though only a handful of countries open their doors to Chinese visitors without visas, more countries have shown a willingness to cater to China’s big spenders in recent years.
A number of developed countries – most recently Britain – have taken steps to streamline visa application processes for Chinese passport holders by extending visa periods, raising approval rates or issuing multiple-entry visas.