Chinese tourism official starts key visit to Taiwan |

Chinese tourism official starts key visit to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan – A senior Chinese tourism official began a key visit to Taiwan Friday that could help revive the island’s beleaguered tourism sector and ease tensions between the longtime rivals.Shao Qiwei, director of China’s State Administration of Tourism, was to inspect Taiwanese tourist facilities at the head of a 66-member delegation on a 10-day visit, in what is widely seen as a prelude to including the island on a list of approved tourist destinations for mainland Chinese.But for any decision to take effect, Taiwan’s government will have to agree to opening its doors to the visitors.Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. While there were more than one million Taiwanese visits to the mainland in 2004, visits by Chinese to Taiwan have been severely limited, ostensibly because of Taiwanese concerns over potential spies or saboteurs.Earlier this year, China dusted off a proposal to expand the number of its tourists visiting Taiwan to 360,000 a year – more than 10 times the current level.At the time Taiwan spurned the offer, saying it needed further study.Since then, however, the government has come under heavy pressure from Taiwan’s beleaguered tourism industry, which views the Chinese market as a key element in its future growth.With only three million arrivals in 2004, the island lags far behind Asian neighbors like Thailand and Malaysia in drawing foreign visitors.But nearby China offers it a quick fix.The World Tourism Organization estimates that the number of Chinese traveling overseas will soar from the current 10 million a year to 50 million by 2010, and to 100 million by 2020, making China the leading source of tourists worldwide.With the same language, and similar foods and culture, Taiwan seems a natural destination for many of the mainlanders, who regard it as place of exceptional beauty and warmth.But before the gates are opened, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party will have to determine if it wants to risk undermining its independence-leaning political platform by further increasing Taiwan’s economic dependence on the mainland.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism