The Chinese government announced Wednesday that it will suspend a program allowing solo tourists from 47 cities to visit Taiwan, amid rising cross-strait tensions.
In a statement, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said the travel ban would come into force on August 1, effectively banning all individual leisure travel from mainland China to Taiwan.
Business travelers and tour groups will still be able to visit Taiwan from mainland China.
The individual visit program was piloted in June 2011 in three cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen — before being expanded to residents of 47 cities to encourage closer ties between Taiwan and the mainland.
However, in recent months, Taipei and Beijing have clashed over issues including a $2.2 billion US arms sales to Taiwan, the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and a visit by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to New York.
Taiwan and mainland China have been separately governed since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, but Beijing has never stopped viewing the island as an integral part of its territory.
Under President Tsai, the island has pushed back against Beijing on a range of fronts and the Taiwan leader has made her tougher line on cross-strait relations a major issue in her bid for re-election next year.
Tsai has been a strong supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters and denounced “overseas forces” during her unusually-long, four-night visit to the US in July. “Taiwan will firmly defend our democratic system. Our democracy has not come easily,” she said.
For its part, Beijing has pursued a harder line against Tsai in the past two years, holding live-fire drills off Taiwan’s coast and warning it could use force to “reunify” the island with the mainland.
In a military policy paper on July 24, the Chiense government said Tsai and her government were a threat to national security and social stability.