China has ceased issuance of individual tourist visas to Taiwan beginning Aug. 1.
In a brief statement on Wednesday, the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MCT) cited “current cross-strait relations” with the self-governing island as the reason behind the move, which now allows mainlanders to only travel in groups.
Since 2011, citizens from 47 mainland cities had been able to apply for individual tourist visas, which would typically last for six months.
The program was reportedly initiated when the pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Kuomintang still ruled Taiwan.
In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, took office as president. Her independence-leaning policies have proven to be a source of headache for Beijing, which resorted to courting Taiwan’s remaining allies.
The travel restriction is believed to be one of China’s means to overthrow Tsai, who is up for re-election next year. Theoretically, the loss of tourist revenue would cripple her campaign.
The change is expected to result in 700,000 fewer arrivals over the next six months. It will also cost the island NT$28 billion (US$900.5 million) in lost revenue, the South China Morning Post reported.
“Details, including preferential treatments for group and individual visitors [from other countries], will be announced soon,” Taiwanese Transport Minister Lin Chai-lung responded in a Facebook post. He added that his government will spend NT$3.6 billion (US$115 million) more in the fourth quarter to promote tourism.
Those who received their individual tourist visas before Aug. 1 can still visit Taiwan as designated until the permits expire.
The move drew mixed reactions on Weibo:
“I support unification.”
“Less words, big things.”
“I feel like I’m about to witness history.”
“Please rest assured that the motherland is actually struggling.”