Chinese tourists 'spend over $3 bln in Taiwan'

Taiwanese authorities on Sunday defended their policy of allowing more Chinese tourists to visit the island, saying it has generated more than three billion dollars worth of business since mid-2008.

As of December, Chinese tourists had made 1.82 million visits to the island and spent Tw$91 billion ($3.1 billion) after the government lifted its decades-old travel ban in July 2008, the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's China policy decision-making body, said in a statement.

Last year mainland tour groups accounted for 1.17 million visits, up 98 percent from 2009, and Taipei now plans to allow individual Chinese tourist trips in another sign of fast-warming ties across the Taiwan Strait.

Currently Chinese are only allowed to travel to the island in groups as Taiwanese authorities are concerned they might otherwise overstay their visas and work illegally.

Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island has ruled itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.

But the former bitter rivals have taken a series of measures to boost ties since Taiwan's Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008.