TAIPEI – China has instructed its tour operators to avoid arranging group trips to Taiwan in the weeks leading up to the island’s January 14 presidential vote, Taiwanese travel agents said Friday.
“We are not surprised by the move as it is a sensitive time ahead of the election and the (Chinese) authorities want to be more cautious,” said Roger Hsu, secretary-general of Taiwan’s Travel Agent Association.
A manager at a Taipei-based travel agency, who asked to be identified only by his surname Lee, said his Chinese partner agencies have been urged to refrain from sending tourists to Taiwan in the two weeks before the poll.
It would be bad for Taiwan’s ruling pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) party if mainland tourists were spotted at its campaign rallies, as the opposition could describe it as interference in the election, he said.
However, calls to travel agents in Beijing indicated no new restrictions had been put in place. Nor was there any indication of new rules on the website of China’s aviation authority.
Taiwan has ruled itself since it split from China in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island and says unification is just a question of time.
Less than a month before Taiwan’s voters are scheduled to go to the polls to elect their president, some opinion surveys show a neck-and-neck race between incumbent Ma Ying-jeou and opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Ma is advocating closer links with China, making him Beijing’s favourite, while Tsai from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party is more reluctant to embrace the mainland.
Last year, China replaced Japan to become Taiwan’s largest source of visitors, after the island’s economy-minded government in 2008 relaxed rules on mainland travellers.
More than 1.63 million Chinese visited Taiwan in 2010 – most of them on organised group tours – a rise of 67 percent from a year before, according to Taipei.