A little more than three weeks ago, new president Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party took rule of Taiwan, ousting the longstanding Nationalist Party (KMT) from its reign.
President Tsai is an anomaly for mainland China; while her predecessor was pointedly China-friendly, President Tsai leans toward an independent, democratic Taiwan – and this does not sit well for Beijing.
Last month, as Tsai’s inauguration approached, China placed immense pressure on her and her party to acknowledge the “One-China” policy. In the three weeks since, Tsai has not done so – nor intends to – a fact that continues to infuriate the mainland.
Tsai’s actions – or, rather lack of action – is sure to provoke a contentious response, right? Under President Xi Jinping’s China? Of course.
According to the United Evening News, as a way to display its deep discontent (and resentment) with Taiwan’s new leadership, China came up with this retort: slash the number of tourists it sends across the strait in half – by the end of the year.
China had already begun this sly maneuver back in March of this year. On March 20, it is said that China reduced the number of Taiwan-bound tourists by one-third, down 50,000 from its previous quota of 150,000.
It is estimated, however, that as a result of this new plan, the total figure will surge down to under two million this year. Sources inside the tourism industry say the “sanctions will escalate as the year progresses”, according to the Shanghaiist. The insiders say that China will allow only 75,000 to visit from next month, and then further scale that number down to a mere 37,500 from October.
The mainland is also said to have been drastically cutting the number of students it sends to Taiwanese universities.
“If the reports are accurate, the curbs on cross-strait tourism represent the first signs of Beijing’s willingness to apply economic pressure to discourage the new leadership from making any moves towards independence,” the Shanghaiist reports.
Tourism is vital to the subtropical island’s economy. In 2015, a record 4.1 tourists visited the country, contributing an estimated NT$230 billion – that is equivalent to $7.1 billion in U.S. dollars!
Chopping the amount of Chinese tourists allowed to make the short trek across the strait is a strategy that China knows will be extremely detrimental to the Taiwanese economy. But even more so, China’s plan is sending a message – a threat, really – directed at President Tsai and her progressive, pro-democratic ideology and hopes for an independent Taiwan.
In fact, this is not even the first time Beijing has “sent a message” since Tsai Ing-wen took office. In addition to the abundantly obvious pressure it put on her in the weeks leading up to her inauguration, just two weeks ago China threatened to suspend communications with the new president unless she were to retract, in a sense, her inauguration speech, dismantling it and reassembling it to officially include her acknowledgement of the “1992 Consensus”. President Tsai did not cede to China’s demands.
China, in rebuttal, acted like a nasty, immature child, choosing slander as its petty tactic. State-run news agency Xinhua News published an editorial which claimed that Tsai Ing-wen was extremist and prone to erratic behavior because she was a single woman without “the emotional burden of love.” The piece was later removed.