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Beijing to allow mainlanders to visit Taiwan
Updated: 2005-05-20 15:42

Beijing will lift a decades-old ban on mainlanders visiting Taiwan on Friday, the Beijing Morning Post said, a move that could further ease tension after visits to mainland by two of the island's opposition leaders.

The mainland has had tight restrictions on its people visiting 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.

Ultimately, it is up to the Taiwan authorities under Chen Shui-bian to decide if the floodgates are opened. Taiwan has its own tough rules restricting mainland visitors.

Mainland tourists have proven a potent economic force. In the year or so since mainland 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.

Tourism-related stocks surged in Taipei on Friday morning in anticipation of mainland relaxing its rules, with the tourism sub index up 6.79 percent by 0433 GMT.

The mainland-based National Tourism Bureau would allow mainlanders to join travel agency tours to Taiwan, including a seven-day package for less than 7,000 yuan ($845), the Beijing Morning Post said.

Bureau officials declined to comment, but an announcement was expected later on Friday, media said.

"Taiwan will definitely be an independent tourism destination," the Beijing Times quoted a manager with a travel agency as saying.

Tourists from Fujian Province were allowed to visit Taiwan's frontline island of Quemoy in December for the first time since 1949.

Despite political tensions, Taiwan investors have poured up to $100 billion into the mainland since the late 1980s, lured by low land and labor costs and a common language and culture.

They have clamoured for Taipei to end a decades-old ban on direct trade, transport and mail links between Taiwan and the mainland.

There are no direct flights between the two sides and most travelers go through Hong Kong or Macau.

Beijing has said people from Taiwan made 3.7 million trips to the mainland in 2004, while only 145,000 mainlanders visited Taiwan.

Beijing this month offered to ease restrictions on contacts between the two sides after visits to the mainland by Lien Chan, head of Taiwan's Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, and James Soong, head of the island's second-biggest opposition party.

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