TAIPEI – Taiwan has authorised a private group to handle talks with China on allowing mainland tourists to visit the island, marking a step forward in lifting a decades-old ban between the arch-rivals, officials said on Friday.
China offered to let mainland tourists visit the self-ruled island it claims as its own in May and called for negotiations with Taipei on details.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which formulates policy towards Beijing, said it had asked the island's Travel Agent Association to talk to its counterpart under the China National Tourism Administration.
China has refused to deal directly with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian since he took office in 2000, unless Chen first renounces his pro-independence stance.
“We have reached an initial consensus and China appears to have no problem dealing with the association,” a council spokeswoman said. But the spokeswoman declined to say when, and where, the talks would take place.
The news gave a boost to tourism-related shares. The tourism sub-index advanced 5.3 percent by 0230 GMT, outperforming a 0.31 percent drop on the main TAIEX market.
China has restricted visits by its citizens to Taiwan since 1949, when the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war. A limited number of mainlanders have been able to travel there on business.
Taiwan has its own tough rules restricting mainland visitors.
The Taiwan government has cautiously welcomed Beijing's offer, saying the island could accommodate 1,000 Chinese tourists a day and might allow the tourists to stay for up to 10 days.
Chinese tourists have proven a potent economic force. In the year or so since Beijing relaxed rules on travel to Hong Kong, a tourism boom has boosted retail sales and been an important factor in the territory's economic recovery.
Despite political tensions, Taiwan investors are estimated to have poured over $100 billion into China since detente first began in the late 1980s, lured by low land and labour costs and a common language and culture.
They have clamoured for Taipei to end a decades-old ban on direct transport links. The ban remains in place due to national security considerations. There are no direct flights between the two sides and most travellers go through Hong Kong or Macau.
China has said people from Taiwan made 3.7 million trips to the mainland in 2004, while only 145,000 Chinese visited Taiwan.