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June 29, 2017

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MOFA welcome Japan bill on visa requirements

The government yesterday welcomed Japan's parliament approving a bill granting permanent visa-free status to Taiwanese visitors, amid strident objections from Beijing.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesman Michel Lu said the Japan government was expected to drop all visa requirements for Taiwanese tourists on September 26 this year, the day after the closing of the Expo 2005 Aichi in central Japan. Premier Frank Hsieh welcomed the move, according to Cabinet spokesman Cho Jung-tai.

"This will improve beneficial exchanges between the people of Taiwan and Japan and will advance our bilateral relations," Cho quoted Hsieh as saying.

The move is bound to anger Beijing as Japan previously only gave visa-free treatment to visitors from countries that maintain official diplomatic ties with Tokyo.

Japan, like most countries in the world, gives formal diplomatic recognition to China rather than Taiwan.

"Taiwan tourists should abide by the law during travels in Japan and cherish Taiwan's hard-earned preferential treatment," Lu said.

Japan's upper Diet approved of the bill yesterday after it passed through Japan's lower Diet or House of Representatives on Tuesday.

"The bill's passage demonstrates that Japan attaches great importance to its relations with Taiwan," one foreign affairs official said.

The MOFA officials said China had objected to the bill throughout the entire legislative process and had demanded Chinese visitors receive the same treatment.

But Japanese lawmakers refused to budge as a relatively large number of mainland visitors to Japan had broken local laws during their stays, the officials said.

MOFA officials said the move would boost Taiwan tourist figures in Japan from a little over one million each year to between 1.3 to 1.4 million. Taiwan is Japan's second largest source of tourists, with the greatest number of its visitors coming from South Korea.

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Taiwan's Japan representative Ko Se-kai said Beijing failed to persuade Japan to change its mind as dropping visa requirements for Taiwan tourists would help Tokyo reach its goal of doubling tourist arrivals from 5.73 million in 2003 to 10 million in 2010.

Earlier this year, Japan's parliament approved of a special bill granting Taiwanese visitors visa free entry for 90 days from March 25 to September 25 in conjunction with the Aichi Expo.

Koh said after this bill was passed, Taiwanese tourists impressed the Tokyo authorities with their spending power and not one had committed a criminal offense.

Koh, who had lobbied Japan to drop the visa requirements, said in future he would try to persuade the Tokyo authorities to improve unofficial communication channels.

He pointed to Washington and Tokyo's recent agreement, which publicly cited peace in the Taiwan Strait as a mutual security concern, a rarely-seen move.

"Japan should not continue resisting improvements to communication channels with Taiwan simply for fear of offending China," Koh said.

Local travel agencies predicted the move would enlarge Taiwan's Japan travel market by at least 10 to 20 percent.

"Tour groups and individual travelers to Japan already increased this year," said a representative from Phoenix Travel.

"Visa exemptions will make arranging travel to Japan even more convenient."

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