Chinese authorities mum on request for partial lifting of travel ban

In this photo taken on July 20, 2011, a mainland Chinese tourist browses through expensive watches at the Taipei 101 skyscraper's high end shopping area in Taipei, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

BEIJING (CNA) — A Chinese official in charge of Taiwan affairs was non-committal on whether China will partially lift a ban on travel to Taiwan by independent travelers after being urged to do so by the heads of Taiwan’s three offshore counties.

The appeal was made by Kinmen County chief Yang Cheng-wu (楊鎮浯), Penghu County chief Lai Feng-wei (賴峰偉), and Lienchiang County chief Liu Cheng-ying (劉增應), all of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), during a meeting with Liu Jieyi (劉結一), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

They asked Beijing to exempt their island counties from a recent ban on individual travel (not as part of a tour group) by Chinese nationals to Taiwan, which took effect Aug. 1.

Lai told Taiwanese reporters after the meeting that Liu was non-committal, saying only that China will consider their request.

In a separate press release issued by the Kinmen County government, Liu was cited as saying that he understood the appeal and indicated that Beijing will make its decision by taking the well-being of people on the islands into consideration.

Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生), a KMT lawmaker and a member of the Taiwanese delegation, said it was his understanding that Liu had to report the request of the three county chiefs to higher ranking Chinese government officials for them to decide.

Beijing announced on July 31 that independent Chinese travelers would not be allowed to visit Taiwan starting in August, citing the current tensions in cross-strait relations, five-months before Taiwan holds a presidential election in January 2020.

It was the first time Beijing had banned independent travelers from visiting Taiwan since such trips started in June 2011.

Previously, residents of 47 major Chinese cities were able to visit Taiwan as independent travelers, while all others who wished to visit had to apply through selected travel agencies .

Kinmen County said in a previous statement that the suspension of independent travel is causing “tremendous losses to Kinmen’s tourism and other industries,” but it did not provide any specifics.

By Miao Zong-han and Joseph Yeh