China attributes travel ban to Taiwan's support for HK protesters

President Tsai Ing-wen criticizes Beijing for using tourists as political tool

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The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall has been a popular destination for Chinese tourists (Source: CNA/ File photo)

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall has been a popular destination for Chinese tourists (Source: CNA/ File photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Beijing has attributed its travel ban on Taiwan to the island nation’s close ties with the U.S. and its support for Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law protests.

The Chinese authorities have halted a trial program that would allow citizens from 47 major cities to take solo trips to Taiwan, citing “current cross-strait relations” as the main reason in an announcement issued on Wednesday (July 31). Nevertheless, group travel remains an option for Chinese tourists who wish to travel to Taiwan.

Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光), a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), on Thursday (August 1) blamed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government for the travel ban. He said the DPP has persistently promoted pro-independence activities, instigated hostility toward China, and provoked division in cross-strait relations.

The DPP government “has seriously damaged the foundation and conditions” for Chinese solo travelers to visit Taiwan, added Ma. It is the first time the Chinese government has imposed a ban on individual travel by Chinese citizens to the island since such trips were first permitted in 2011.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said at a press conference on Thursday that the Chinese authorities have made “a big strategic mistake” by imposing economic pressure on Taiwan ahead of the island nation’s presidential election. Using tourists as a political tool will only create negative sentiment in the hearts of Taiwanese, said Tsai.

China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (CPLAC) announced through its official WeChat account that the ban was introduced in response to Tsai’s transits in the U.S. last month during her Caribbean tour, reported the Central News Agency. The Tsai administration’s support for Hong Kong’s demonstrations against the contentious extradition bill also provoked Beijing, the report said.

However, the U.S. has in the past allowed Taiwan's presidents, regardless of their party, to make stopovers during their trips to Caribbean and Pacific allies, even though the two nations do not have diplomatic relations. In addition, Hong Kong’s protestors enjoy bipartisan support in Taiwan, with even China-friendly political parties also urging the Hong Kong government to withdraw the extradition bill.

The travel ban reflects China’s leader Xi Jinping’s previous statement that Beijing is willing to allow Taiwan space in exchange for “peaceful unification,” but it will not spare any room for any form of pro-independence separatist activities, the report quoted the CPLAC as saying.

While some critics fear that China’s latest move could negatively affect Taiwan’s tourism industry, others believe the impact is likely to be limited as the country has seen a rising number of travelers from other parts of the world in recent years and is, therefore, less dependent on Chinese tourists.