With the inauguration of the new Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who strongly emphasize on the Taiwanese identity, the Chinese government tried any means to give political pressure to this Pro-independence leader, such as cutting down the numbers of Chinese tourist group that going to Taiwan. Nicola Smith (2016) in her article on TIME magazine has described it as “really hurts” Taiwan. This actually raised a question: how did tourism became a bargaining chip in the cross-strait relations?
Taiwan is a popular travelling destination in East Asia. However, for a long time, Chinese people was prohibited to entering Taiwan due to the hostility of the two governments. During Hu Jintao’s term as Chinese President, he lifted the limitation for Chinese citizens travelling to Taiwan in 2005. Later in 2008, Chinese government take a further step by sending the first tourist group to Taiwan.(Xinhuanet, 2008) This is commonly considered as a soft strategy to reach the target of China’s reunification by providing economic benefits to Taiwan, which was considered by the Beijing government that could increase Taiwanese people’s sense of belonging to China.
As China is a vast country with huge number of population, even a little portion of Chinese tourist going to Taiwan could made profit to Taiwanese tourism. According to the figure from Taiwanese Executive Yuan (2016), since 2008, 10 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan and brought US$ 18.8 billion incomes to Taiwan. 766 of brand new tourists accommodation had built up and brought investment of NT$169 billion to Taiwan.(China Times, 2015) From the perspective of Beijing government, the opening up of mainlanders visit to Taiwan did speed up Taiwanese economic development.
However, the Taiwanese people actually feels discontent towards the mainland visitors. The Chinese tourists is commonly described as “uncivilized” in Taiwanese media due to their behavior, such as throwing rubbish anywhere (ETToday, 2016), not following the queue, or even harass the monks and nuns (Apple Daily, 2012). This group of people claimed they are bringing up Taiwanese economy, but Taiwanese people felt that the Chinese visitors bothered their normal life.
Also, the common people did not really share the fruit of the income from mainland visitors. Although Chinese tourist brought revenue to Taiwanese economy, but it only contributed to 3% of Taiwanese GDP actually.(China Times, 2015) Also, the profit earn from Chinese profit are majorly shared by travel agents and large chain shops. Shops started to suit Chinese visitors’ interests instead of serving local communities.(Eye Prophet, 2016) The local citizens were affected by the tourists, but they get nothing from tourists. Even for the workers in tourism industry, they also did not enjoy a better life. It is reported that Taiwanese bus drivers for tourist groups are actually enjoying an extreme low income that even could not meet the minimum wage level, and they had to work in harsh environment.(Chiang, 2016) Therefore, it is hard to say that the common people in Taiwan benefited from the Chinese tourists.
The clashes between Chinese tourists and Taiwanese people were further developed later. Although Taiwanese people having huge discontentment towards Chinese tourists, however, due to the censorship on media in China, the common Chinese people could not really know the actual thought of Taiwanese people. Instead, the official media and propaganda always promoted that Taiwanese people welcomed Chinese tourists, and brought huge contribution to Taiwanese economy. Some radical report even stated that if Chinese tourists do not go to Taiwan, the Taiwanese economy would just collapse. These promotions made Chinese tourists became more arrogant in Taiwan. When they tell Taiwanese people that the Chinese tourists supported Taiwanese economy, Taiwanese people felt more discontent towards Chinese tourists, instead of feeling thankful.
Furthermore, it is reported that numbers of famous tourist spot in Taiwan became over-developed due to the huge flow of Chinese tourists. Travel agents fight for profit by cutting down the cost of operation and lower the price of tourist group. This kind of vicious competition made the quality of tourist group decreased.(Eye Prophet, 2016) Some even operating “free tourist group” to attract customers, and they had to make the profit by forcing tourist to shopping in the designated shops.(Eye Prophet, 2016) This shows that Taiwanese travelling industry actually pay a lot of costs for earning the profit from Chinese visitors.
Though, when the newly-elected President Tsai Ing-wen was not as Pro-China as the previous President Ma Ying-jeou, Beijing cut down the number of tourist groups to Taiwan and hoped this could use as a means to threaten the new DPP government. Even many of Taiwanese people welcomed with this situation, the travel industry still became shocked and income had hugely decreased. The new government still need to promote new policies to attract more Chinese independent travelers to Taiwan in order to cover the loss.
As the third largest economy in the world, China is an important trading partner with many countries. Many of the industries in the developed countries as well as developing countries is closely linked with China. When having the economic relations with China, those countries must aware the political motivation behind the economic action, as well as pay attention on the developing strategy of those industries that closely linked with China. Over relying on China could make these economic relations easily became the bargaining chip of China, as well as destroying the developing path of those industries, which was the path that Taiwan has walked for 8 years.
—– Wai Lun SO (M00601209)
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