China Tourist

See Taipei – don’t go home

An unusual form of tourism hasn’t marred relations across the Straits

Taiwan's blue sky policy at work

Chinese tourists to Taiwan have come up with a new island adventure that’s not advertised in the brochures.

Going AWOL.

Last month two men from Sichuan ‘did a runner’ in Taiwan. Before that, a man who joined a Taiwan-bound tour group left his group and has been missing ever since.

The Cross-Straits Tourism Exchange Association has criticised the travel agencies involved in the cases. According to the China Daily, at least ten mainland tourists have secretly left their tour groups and stayed in Taiwan.

The defections, which in an earlier era may well have set off security alarms, have received little coverage in the media. Both sides, especially Taiwan, seemed to want to downplay the events, so as not to jeopardise the much-improved cross-Straits relationship.

In truth, Ma Ying-jeou’s Taipei government has a lot at stake. The national economy has been slower to recover than neighbours, and observers worry that many of Taiwan’s industries will be disadvantaged when a free-trade pact between China and the Association of the South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) takes effect next year.

Ma is frantically lobbying for Taiwan to secure a similar free-trade deal.

But in light of the warmer ties, the two governments seem eager to bridge their previous differences – at least culturally.

China has recently approved plans to jointly produce several films glorifying the acts of KMT soldiers in China’s struggle with Japanese invaders from 1937 to 1945, says a Taiwanese newspaper.

That’s a turnaround from decades of mainland coverage that cast the KMT army in a less favourable light. School children have been taught that victory in the Sino-Japanese war was achieved through the leadership of the Communist Party, even though the KMT shouldered much of the fight.

Beijing now seems to be permitting a revised perspective, with the combined film-making initiatives as part of the new policy. In July, Chinese culture minister Cai Wu told the fifth Cross-Straits Economic, Trade and Culture Forum that China’s authorities were adjusting policies to encourage the Taiwanese entertainment industry to develop projects on the mainland too.

Taiwan will welcome any economic boost it can get. Its economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. And whether it likes it or not, China has become a key growth engine for the island.

Meanwhile China will have been pleased by developments in Taiwan where former President Chen Shui-bian was last week sentenced to a lifetime in prison – for corruption and embezzlement.

Chen had an unequalled ability to annoy China. Top of the list was his 2007 declaration that “Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country; Taiwan is not part of China, nor is Taiwan a local government of the People’s Republic of China.“

Beijing, on the other hand, insists that Taiwan remains a province of the People’s Republic.

Chen had some undiplomatic words for President Hu Jintao too, in rejecting a proposed rapprochement in 2007: “Hu is a formidable rival, sharp yet merciless,” he said. “He is like a smiling tiger, hiding a dagger in a smile, with honey in his mouth but a sword at his stomach.”

Earlier this month, Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-chen, was also convicted of corruption and sentenced to life in prison. Further, they were both fined a total of $15 million.

Chen has said he will appeal against the verdicts, as the charges are politically-motivated.

The ‘tiger’ is no doubt smiling now, nevertheless.


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