Via the ABC:
Tourists travelling alone from dozens of Chinese cities can no longer apply to visit Taiwan anymore, as tensions between Beijing and Taipei continue to rise.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism made a surprise announcement that Beijing would suspend individual travel permits to Chinese tourists from 47 cities — including Beijing and Shanghai — effective August 1, meaning only tour groups will be allowed to visit the self-ruling island.
The statement said the suspension was related to “the current cross-strait relations” but did not elaborate on the details.
Last night Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying remained tight-lipped on the topic, despite being asked three times to explain Beijing’s decision during a regular press briefing.
In response to the announcement, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council expressed its stern protest and condemnation of China’s latest move to restrict travel, adding that Taipei will discuss the issue with Beijing.
Tensions have been rising between Beijing and Taipei over the past month, with US approving possible sales of $US2.2 billion ($AU2.8 billion) in tanks, missiles and related equipment to Taiwan.
In response, China has warned the United States “not to play with fire” and threatened to sanction US companies that sell arms to Taiwan.
Local media has cited President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent stopover in the United States and her blatant remarks on the Hong Kong protests as possible reasons for the travel suspension.
China’s diplomatic weapon
But despite the surprise announcement, Chinese studies lecturer Mark Harrison told the ABC that the decision was “too low-level” to be a reaction to proposed arms sales — which Beijing already responded to — and was actually a suspension of a pilot individual visit program that was first introduced in 2011.
“The Chinese Government has already made representations to the US about the stop-over by President Tsai, so it is unlikely the tourism decision was directly connected to Tsai’s visit, except as part of a broader policy calculus,” he said.
Dr Harrison believes the decision was likely related to upcoming Taiwan presidential elections in 2020, and given the specific timing, the decision had likely already been in the works for some time.
“This might be part of broad thinking about ‘what China can do in order to intervene in the election’,” Dr Harrison said.
He added that it would allow Beijing to give preferred presidential candidate and Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu a situation that he would be able to solve.
“It’s a calibrated action that is trying to avoid blowback against Beijing in ways that would hurt the presidential candidate they would prefer to see win,” he said.
The major parties’ campaigns have started to kick off, with independent Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je announcing a new political party this week called the Taiwan People’s Party.
China’s regular use of tourism as a diplomatic weapon
Beijing’s announcement to suspend individual travel to Taiwan isn’t the first time it has used tourism as a diplomatic weapon.
Chinas also previously imposed a ban on Chinese tourists to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau — one of Taiwan’s 17 remaining allies worldwide — which reportedly left hotels empty and an airline in limbo.
Earlier this year, Chinese state media also claimed Chinese tourists were abandoning New Zealanddue to its decision to ban Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from operating in the country.
However unlike Palau, Dr Harrison believes Taiwan would be able to absorb the impact of potentially lower numbers of tourists from mainland China, given the diversification in Taiwan’s tourism markets.
“So they seem to be trying to find a way to address the election campaign and intervene in some form in Taiwanese politics in ways that don’t overly antagonise Taiwanese citizens but still makes a statement.”
However, some experts have a different view, with one industry insider telling the South China Morning Post that Beijing’s ban could result in 700,000 fewer arrivals over the next six months and cost Taiwan $NT28 billion ($US900.5 million) in lost revenue.
Permits issued to individual travellers before Thursday are reportedly still valid, but the move could impact travellers who had booked solo trips and were yet to obtain permission.
Despite potential inconveniences, there has been a chorus of patriotic reactions from Chinese netizens on the travel suspension.
One user on Weibo called for Beijing to “take back Taiwan” because it would be a “great gift for our motherland’s 70th birthday”, referring to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.
Some netizens also condemned Beijing’s decision, with Twitter user Backfire saying “[The Government] should not interfere with one’s right to travel freely by imposing administrative approaches”.
Yes, it can happen here. Indeed, it already is undercover as Chinese student and tourism numbers fall.
Meanwhile, from Bloomberg:
The biggest fear for some is a repeat of the deadly crackdown that took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square three decades ago, potentially prompting the U.S. to withdraw special trade privileges for Hong Kong. But even smaller-scale intervention could spark a knee-jerk exodus from the city’s financial markets, drag down property prices and prompt international companies to reconsider their presence in the territory, analysts say.
…China, meanwhile, would face potential economic sanctions from the U.S. and Europe, an emboldened pro-independence movement in Taiwan and increased financial risks for companies that rely on Hong Kong as a gateway to international investors — all while grappling with Donald Trump’s trade war and the slowest economic expansion since foreign investment collapsed after Tiananmen.
…“Beijing is unlikely to use the PLA to quell the protests until it feels it has exhausted all other levers at its disposal,” said Euan Graham, a former Asia analyst at the U.K.’s foreign office who’s now executive director of Asian research and outreach at Australia’s La Trobe University. “However much Xi Jinping fears chaos within China’s borders and that the use of the PLA is legitimate in his eyes, above all he does not want to have the stain of another Tiananmen massacre.”
Until he does.