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No more Chinese tourists to Taiwan as Beijing builds tension

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Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen Reuters

China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan by announcing the suspension of individual travel permits to the island "due to current cross-strait relations".


Relations between Communist-ruled Beijing and Taipei have plummeted since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016 because her party refuses to recognise that Taiwan is part of "one China".

Beijing has cut official communications, ramped up military exercises, poached diplomatic allies and ratcheted up economic pressure on the island.

The latest move comes as Taiwan prepares to hold a presidential election in January, with Beijing-friendly candidate Han Kuo-yu of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party hoping to defeat Tsai.

A program had allowed Chinese citizens in 47 mainland cities to apply for permits to visit Taiwan on their own, instead of travelling on group tours.

But the Beijing tourism ministry said in a brief statement that the permits would be suspended from Thursday "due to current cross-strait relations" -- a move that could hurt the island's economy. The statement did not mention any restrictions on group tours.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top policy-making body on China, issued a statement to "sternly protest and condemn" the move.

Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said that by blocking mainland tourists, "the Chinese Communists act like they are afraid that the Chinese people will experience the sweet fruits of freedom and democracy."

For his part, Tsai's rival Han, who is mayor of Kaohsiung, urged China to "not equate" Taiwan's people with the DPP.

Taiwan relations act

Both Beijing and the KMT on Taiwan see China as one entity, and want, eventually, reunification. The split came about in 1949, when the nationalist KMT was beaten by China’s Communist Party (CCP) and found refuge on Taiwan.

The US initially kept on recognizing the KMT, now headquartered in Taiwan’s capital Taipei, as China’s sole legitimate government. Washington helped deter any mainland invasion by patrolling the Taiwan Straits, separating Taiwan from the mainland, with its 7th fleet.

But the US switched sides in 1979, recognizing the CCP government in Beijing as China’s only legitimate ruling entity, stating that "Taiwan is an inseparable part" of the mainland.

At the same time Washington went on protecting Taiwan by approving the Taiwan Relations Act, authorising the sale of defensive weapons to the island, and an implicit promise of US assistance if Beijing were to “resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security ... of Taiwan.”

In the following decades, Taiwan-China relations gradually improved, resulting in the “1992 Concensus,” a joint policy paper that recognised the “one China principle” and the wish for eventual reunification.

But ties started to become unstable after opposition parties were allowed to take part in Taiwan’s elections.

The nationalist KMT favors a more mainland-friendly policy, but their monopoly ended in 2000 when the pro-independence DPP took over. In 2008, the KMT regained power, to be ousted in 2016 by the DPP, after which relations with Beijing again deteriorated.

Resolutely defeat anyone

Meanwhile, the Chinese defence ministry issued its “China’s National Defense in the New Era” white paper last week, saying that “the fight against separatists is becoming more acute,” and reproaching the DPP for failing to recognize the one-China principle of the “1992 Consensus, while reiterating that Beijing makes “no promise to renounce the use of force” to "resolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China".

An American warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait last week. The Chinese military, meanwhile, is holding military exercises southwest and north of Taiwan this week.