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61 years after, Taiwan opens first China tourism office


AFTER more than six decades, Taiwan has opened a tourism office in Beijing that represents its first official presence in the Chinese capital since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.
China, according to Agence France Presse (AFP), will also open a counterpart office in Taiwan on Friday as part of reciprocal steps aimed at opening up tourism links between the two.

The opening of the Taiwanese office was greeted with excitement and a flurry of interest from local Beijing media, as costumed dragon dancers posed and confetti was tossed galore.

Since taking office in 2008, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has actively promoted ties with Beijing.

“The purpose is to introduce Taiwan’s scenery and landscapes to mainland people, and promote mutual understanding and interaction between the sides through tourism. That’s the most important goal,” said Yang Ruizong, head of the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association office in Beijing.

Yang is the first senior Taiwanese official to be based in Beijing, a key milestone in bilateral ties after decades of hostility, while cross-strait relations are at their warmest in years under Ma’s tenure. Despite the split 61 years ago, China continues to claim the self-ruled island of Taiwan as part of its territory.

Since Ma was elected, the sides have resumed high-level dialogues, set up regular direct transportation links and allowed a greater number of Chinese tourists to visit in the hope of boosting Taiwan’s economy.

China’s Cross-Straits Tourism Exchange Association will on Friday open its offices in Taiwan.

In the absence of official ties, the two offices will also work informally to handle travel problems and disputes, along with other difficulties, for their tourists.

“We’ll work to help travelers who come upon difficulties or need assistance,” Yang said, though he added that the office does not issue visas.

Taiwanese officials are hopeful that tourism will help to promote better relations.

“This an important development in cross-strait relations,” said Vice Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Chao Chien-min, speaking from Taiwan. “The opening of the semiofficial office shows that cross-strait exchanges are being gradually institutionalised and now the government can help Taiwanese travelers on the mainland to handle problems that come up during their trips.”

However, some tensions still persist. China has continued to deploy an estimated 1,300 missiles aimed at Taiwanese targets, and has refused to consider renouncing the use of force in dealing with the island.

Last week, during an interview on CCN, Ma set off a firestorm of criticism when he stated that the island would never seek U.S. help to defend itself. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry insisted Tuesday that its stance had not changed, saying it will maintain a robust defense to deal with a possible Chinese attack.

Since July 2008, Taiwan began allowing mainland Chinese to visit as part of group tours, while Taiwanese have been coming to do business in China for years. Since 2008, Taiwan has received about 1 million Chinese visitors, while China records about 4 million Taiwanese annually.

Yang said he hopes to open additional tourism offices across China.

Meanwhile in China, extra police and security staff yesterday stood guard as parents dropped off their children on the first day of classes in China since dozens of students were injured in three back-to-back attacks on schools last week.

In Beijing, police cars flashed lights outside some schools as guards in orange vests watched students enter gates. Guards in the southern city of Guangzhou prevented parents from entering school premises without special permission. Parents in Shanghai discussed ways to strengthen security at kindergartens.

Child safety is an issue that touches nerves across Chinese society, particularly among members of the urban middle class who invest huge amounts of money and effort in the education and care of their only children. Most Chinese have only one child under the country’s population control laws.

Scandals in recent years in which children have been the main victims have sparked public anger and occasional protests, such as in recent months when at least 3,000 children around the country were found suffering from lead poisoning due to polluting factories built too close to villages, and in 2008 when tainted baby milk powder sickened more than 300,000 infants.

Separately, reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il toured an industrial zone and met local officials in northeastern China yesterday according to reports, on a visit to his country’s main backer that comes amid growing tensions over the North’s suspected role in the sinking of a South Korean navy ship.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said he visited factories in an industrial zone, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Dalian, where Japanese and South Korean firms have operations.

Japanese and South Korean media then reported he left Dalian by highway around 4 p.m. (0800 GMT) headed for the city of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province that borders North Korea. They said Kim was dining with provincial officials and would continue by train to Beijing.

The trip comes amid speculation that North Korea’s absolute ruler may heed calls from Beijing and elsewhere to return to negotiations on ending the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

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