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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 11:00 GMT
Taiwan urged to welcome Chinese
By Caroline Gluck
BBC News, Taipei

Shao Qiwei (C), head of the state China National Tourism Administration, shakes hands with Chang Shueh-lao, Chairman of the Taiwan Visiting Association , 28 Oct
The Chinese delegation are on a 10-day trip of Taiwan
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council has urged the public to be friendly towards high-level Chinese tourism officials currently visiting the island.

The head of China's tourism board is heading a 66-member delegation for a 10-day visit to Taiwan.

Many believe the visit will lead to the lifting of a ban on Chinese tourists visiting the island, which China regards as a breakaway province.

But the visitors have nevertheless faced protests during their tour.

Small groups of pro-independence demonstrators have continued to voice their opposition to the visit.

Television pictures showed them burning China's national flag as the Chinese delegation arrived in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, on the latest leg of their fact-finding tour.

In a highly unusual step, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council - the cabinet level body responsible for relations with mainland China - issued a statement saying it regretted the protests.

It said the government respected freedom of speech, but noted that the delegation had been formally invited to Taiwan by a private tourism association, and this had been approved by the government.

It said the delegates were guests in Taiwan and should be treated accordingly.

The visit is raising expectations that Beijing will soon scrap the tight restrictions that have made it difficult for Chinese tourists to visit the island.

Tourism officials in Taiwan say such a move would be a huge boost to the industry, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

An agreement could increase pressure on Taipei to end its ban on direct transport links, in place since the two sides split at the end of the 1949 Chinese civil war.

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