In its latest effort to increase pressure on Taiwan, Beijing said it will suspend a program that allowed individual tourists from 47 Chinese cities to travel to Taiwan, citing the current state of relations between the two sides.
The ban is effective from Aug. 1, according to a statement Wednesday from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and means that Chinese nationals can only travel to Taiwan as tourists if they’re part of tour groups. The scheme had been in place since 2011 under the more China-friendly administration of former President Ma Ying-jeou.
The ministry’s statement didn’t provide any further details as to the reason for the ban. The unexpected move comes as China attempts to isolate Taiwan and Tsai Ing-wen, it’s independence-leaning president. The move may also be aimed at hurting her re-election chances in January’s presidential election.
China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to answer a question about the decision, asking reporters at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon to talk to the relevant department for Taiwan affairs. The Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei declined to comment immediately when contacted.
“This is a shock to all of us. We are all very worried about it,” Benny Wu, chairman of the Taipei Association of Travel Agents, said by phone. “This will have a huge impact on Taiwan’s tourism and economy. Hotels, restaurants will all be affected.”
Spending by foreign tourists accounted for about 2.2% of GDP in 2017, the last year for which data is available, according to the tourism bureau. China was the largest single source of people visiting Taiwan and accounted for almost one third of total visitors to the island in May 2019, according to a Bloomberg calculation based on data published by Taiwan’s tourism bureau.