April 17, 2006

China allows tour groups to Taiwan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China issued new rules allowing
mainland tourists to visit Taiwan, continuing Beijing's efforts
to court the disputed island with economic overtures, but it
was unclear when any Chinese tourism to the island would start.

The new rules reported in state media on Monday allow
authorized mainland travel agencies to organize group tours to
Taiwan. Taiwan travel services must also win approval from
Chinese agencies to host mainland tourists.

The Chinese tourist agencies "must require host (Taiwan)
agencies do not lead or organize tourists to take part in any
activities involving gambling, licentiousness or drugs," the
rules said.

Both China and Taiwan place tight restrictions on mainland
visits to the island. The trickle of mainlanders now able to
travel there is tiny compared to the 4.1 million trips to the
mainland last year by Taiwan people, many of them investors.

The tourism rules continued Beijing's campaign of seeking
to win over Taiwanese opinion by holding out possible
investment and trade rewards. They were issued by the Chinese
government on Sunday, a day after China announced possible
aviation, agriculture and finance concessions to Taiwan at an
economic forum in Beijing attended by Chinese Communist
officials and Taiwanese opposition politicians

But it was unclear how soon such tours could start -- the
two sides have already wrangled over arrangements and political
tensions remain high.

Late last year, the head of China's National Tourism
Administration visited Taiwan. Taiwan's independence-leaning
President Chen Shui-bian has previously warily welcomed the
prospect of mainland tourists, saying the island could take
1,000 Chinese tourists a day and might allow them to stay up to
10 days. But there have been no formal negotiations over the
issue between the two sides.

Communist Party chief Hu Jintao on Sunday called for
political negotiations between China and Taiwan as soon as

But Taiwan must accept it belongs to "one China" as the
precondition for talks, Hu told Lien Chan, the former chairman
of Taiwan's main opposition Nationalist Party, who led the
delegation of business leaders and party officials to the
two-day forum.

Taiwan has been divided from China since 1949, when fleeing
Nationalist forces turned it into a bulwark against the
mainland Communists.

China says Taiwan must accept eventual reunification. But
many Taiwanese are wary of Beijing, and Taiwan's Chen has
angered China by treating reunification as no more than a
distant option and rejecting Beijing's "one China" forumula.

Last week Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang called for faster
negotiations between the Beijing and Tapei over mainland
tourism to the island. Su blamed Beijing for stalling on

The new regulations said authorized Chinese travel agencies
would receive quotas for the number of tourists allowed to
Taiwan, and tour guides would require special training and