Some countries are choosing to increase diplomatic ties with China as they limit contacts with the government in Taiwan.
But Taiwan is doing better than China at a level of diplomacy that common people can feel: the number of countries that let the island’s citizens enter without requiring a visa.
Taiwan has persuaded 166 countries to let its 23 million citizens enter without a visa or with simple visa requirements. Taiwan’s foreign ministry says some of these countries have done so, knowing that China might take action against them.
Only 21 countries offer visa-free entry to people from China.
The rise of visa-free countries from 10 years ago shows that Taiwan can expand diplomatically, even when facing Chinese opposition. It is something for Taiwan’s government to show citizens who want more foreign policy successes.
Joanna Lei leads the Chunghua 21st Century research group in Taiwan.
She said, “For most of the people foreign relations is a very distant thing, but the ability to travel free around the world is a direct and personal experience…If Taiwan continues to enjoy visa-free travel, that means a lot of countries recognize the administration and allow the people from Taiwan to their lands, and that will be a major, major foreign affairs achievement.”
China claims control of Taiwan. It says the island must be reunited with the mainland someday. Taiwan has been self-ruled since the 1940s. But Chinese officials try to limit its influence around the world.
China’s government has stopped Taiwan from joining United Nations agencies since the 1970s. The government also offers aid to countries that cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan and open ties to China. Panama cuts ties with the island and recognized the government in Beijing last month.
Just 20 countries now recognize the government in Taiwan. More than 170 countries recognize China.
The effort to expand visa-free treatment for Taiwanese people began during the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, who held office from 2008 to 2016. During that time, China and Taiwan decided to set aside political differences so the two countries could build trust through economic deals. This made it more difficult for China to stop Taiwan’s efforts to increase people-to-people contacts overseas.
Huang Kwei-bo led the foreign ministry research and planning committee from 2009 to 2011.
“(Diplomatic) cables regarding that were sent to all the offices and missions abroad, and we kept reminding officials of the importance and urgency of getting visa waivers or visas upon arrival,” he said.
“We tried to tell those potential targeted countries not to feel worried about punishment from the Beijing authorities,” he said, because improved ties under Ma “would make the visa waiver issue less sensitive.”
The Henley & Partners 2015 Visa Restrictions Index rated Taiwan passports number 28 in the world in terms of visa-free restrictions. China was ranked 93rd.
The Chinese government has shown little willingness to trust Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen. But she has yet to call for legal independence from China.
Liu Yih-jiun teaches at Fo Guang University in Taiwan. Liu says the worsening relations between the two sides could make it more difficult for Taiwan to add countries to its visa-free list.
Last week, Taiwan and Paraguay agreed to let each other’s citizens enter without visas. The foreign ministry is also preparing to let Filipinos enter without a visa. The Philippines still requires Taiwanese to get a visa before entering the country.
Taiwan foreign ministry official Eleanor Wang says countries let Taiwanese enter without a visa for economic reasons and for better ties with Taiwan.
It is difficult for China to persuade other countries to let its citizens enter without a visa. The reason: some Chinese move to other countries illegally for economic reasons.
Lin Chong-pin is a former strategic studies professor in Taipei. He says Taiwan “has achieved a certain level of economic sufficiency, therefore its citizens are not that eager to flee from the country and get settled in other countries.”
“Most of them want to come back,” he adds. “They find Taiwan more comfortable. Countries that give Taiwan visa waivers are not threatened.”
I’m Anna Matteo.
And I’m Pete Musto.
Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei for VOANews.com. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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