Taiwan set to lift ban on solo Chinese tourists

Taiwan is expected to lift its decades-old ban on visits by individual Chinese tourists from April in yet another sign of the island's fast-warming ties with China, officials and local media said Sunday.

Currently Chinese are only allowed to travel to the island in groups as Taiwan's authorities are concerned they might otherwise over-stay their visas and work illegally.

"We're ready for the further opening measures," an official at Taiwan's China policy decision-making body Mainland Affairs Council said on condition of anonymity.

She would not provide details, but the Taipei-based China Times said that up to 500 residents from Shanghai and Beijing would be permitted to travel to the island each day on a trial basis.

"The two sides have reached a consensus on the long-anticipated policy, with the measures starting around the Tomb Sweeping Day" which falls on April 5, the Times said, without identifying its source.

Solo Chinese tourists would be allowed to stay in Taiwan for up to 15 days, it said.

When asked to comment on the report, Chen Chiung-wen, an official at Taiwan's Tourism Bureau, said she expected the new measures to be realised soon "as they meet the targets of the two sides".

She said "tourists from China for the first time will be given the chance of making in-depth tours of Taiwan," adding that further discussion would be needed.

The daily quota of Chinese visitors was increased from 3,000 to 4,000 from Saturday, according to an agreement reached in Taipei last month.

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 tourism since Taiwan's Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008.

Chinese tourists made 1.6 million visits to Taiwan last year and authorities on the island expect the figure to rise to up to 2.0 million this year.

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