Page last updated at 06:28 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 07:28 UK

China steps up tourism to Taiwan

By Caroline Gluck
BBC News, Taipe

Mainland Chinese tourists take pictures at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei on 4 July 2008
Chinese tourism offers economic as well as diplomatic rewards

Large groups of Chinese tourists are set to begin arriving in Taiwan as restrictions are further relaxed.

Most will fly in on newly inaugurated direct weekend charter flights, which began operating earlier this month.

China had promised that that from Friday it would allow up to 3,000 of its citizens to visit Taiwan every day.

The move is another sign of how ties between the two sides have warmed since the election of Taiwan's President, Ma Ying-jeou.

Building trust

Nearly 2,000 Chinese tourists will arrive in Taiwan this weekend, all travelling in mandatory tour groups.

Their visit is the result of agreements reached between officials from China and Taiwan last month - which also saw a deal reached on establishing direct weekend charter flights.

Up until now, China has tightly regulated the number of people allowed to travel to Taiwan, with fewer than 300,000 visiting each year, compared to nearly five million trips made to China by Taiwanese visitors.

Officials hope the exchanges will help to build more trust and lower tensions between the two sides, who split amid civil war in 1949.

Economic boost

The government here also hopes the new arrivals will provide an important boost to the local economy. And, if the spending habits of the first group of Chinese visitors earlier this month was anything to go by, those expectations are likely to be realised.

Local media reported that the first group of more than 700 visitors spent around $1.3m (650,000) - an average of $1,857 per person - and that the figure was a conservative estimate.

The agreements on flights and tourists fulfil an election pledge by President Ma.

He had promised voters he would boost the island's economy - and push for a better, less confrontational relationship with China, which still regards the island as part of its territory.

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