The Free and Independent Travel Policy: It's Working
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 28, 2011
The Free and Independent Travel Policy is now in effect. The first batch of 273 tourists from the Chinese mainland will arrive on Taiwan today. Many people regard this as a business opportunity, But even more importantly, the Free and Independent Travel Policy for tourists from the Chinese mainland will enable the establishment of direct dialogue between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. It will provide them with an opportunity to communicate, and also an opportunity to establish cross-Strait peace.
Authorities on the two sides have a tacit understanding. The Free and Independent Travel Policy will initially be limited to 500 visitors a day. This is not spelled out explicitly in the provisions. Therefore it can be readily increased in the future. Based on 500 visitors a day, and a stay lasting 15 days, on any given day 7,500 visitors from the Chinese mainland will be traveling around on Taiwan under the Free and Independent Travel Policy. If the quota is increased to 1000 visitors a day, on any given day 15,000 visitors from the Chinese mainland will be traveling about on Taiwan under the Free and Independent Travel Policy. Add 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day traveling around on Taiwan with tour groups, which stay on Taiwan seven to ten days. That means on any given day 40,000 to 50,000 tourists from the Chinese mainland are on visiting Taiwan. Over 36 million tourists from the Chinese mainland visited Hong Kong last year. Among these, 14.2 million visited under the aegis of the Free and Independent Travel Policy. Altogether, they spent around 750 billion NT. That means Taipei's Mainland tourist market has plenty of room for growth.
This is indeed a huge business opportunity, But the significance of tourists from the Chinese mainland, especially those traveling under the aegis of the Free and Independent Travel Policy, is not primarily business related. Rather, it is an opportunity for people to dialogue with each other. Consider the business opportunities. Everyone from the central government to local governments, is eager for visitors from the Chinese mainland. Even Tainan City Mayor Lai Ching-teh (DPP) complains about the lack of direct flights between Tainan and the Chinese mainland. The world's largest Dior flagship store will soon open in the Taipei 101 Building. EVA Air will soon invest 100 billion NT on 20 to 25 new airliners, to accomodate tourists from the Chinese mainland who wish to visit Taiwan. Even the 7-ELEVEN chain is preparing 60,000 "Free and Independent Travel Policy Gift Packages." These are all opportunities created by the Free and Independent Travel Policy. But the significance of the Free and Independent Travel Policy is hardly limited to cross-Strait business opportunities. If we look at the Free and Independent Travel Policy from the economic side alone, we are being far too myopic.
What have visitors from the Chinese mainland experienced? What insights have they gained? Taiwan has picturesque scenery. But so does the Chinese mainland. The Chinese mainland has second-tier cities that surpass Taipei and Kaohsiung economically. Tourists from the Chinese mainland come not to marvel at the scenery. They come not in pursuit of fashion. They come mainly because Taiwan and the Chinese mainland share the same history and cultural heritage. Today, the two sides are engaged in subtle political and economic coopetition. The most important experiences and insights tourists from the Chinese mainland have gained concern the contemplation of history and the exploration of culture. Pineapple cakes and oyster omelets fascinate tourists from the Chinese mainland not necessarily because they like the taste, but because they represent Taiwan. When tourists from the Chinese mainland digest their food, they are digesting 60 plus years of shared history, and of love and hate.
Most visitors from the Chinese mainland are private citizens. When they experience real life on Taiwan under the "Free and Independent Travel Policy" they are able to each people on Taiwan as human beings, heart to heart. They are able temporarily to escape official influence. They are no longer bound by travel agencies. They are engaged in "Free and Independent Travel." These few days may be the freest they have experienced their entire life. Today's Taiwan may or may not be different from, or better than the Chinese mainland. But if it is, it will not be a result of its scenery or its high-rise towers. It will not be a result of its oyster omelets or pineapple cakes. It will be a result of its Free and Independent Travel Policy, which enables visitors from the Chinese mainland to experience something unprecedented in 5000 years of Chinese history: democracy and freedom.
In a well known TV commercial, a tourist from the Chinese mainland says, "This we have on the Mainland. But this we do not." The Chinese mainland is a society that has everything. The only thing it doesn't have is democracy and freedom. For example, tourists from the Chinese mainland love to watch the 8pm evening political call in shows. That is something Taiwan has that the Chinese mainland does not. It is rumored that most visitors from the Chinese mainland feel that democracy on Taiwan is "compelling." But few believe that democracy and freedom can work on the Chinese mainland. But the most important experience and insight Taiwan can leave visitors, is the conviction that the quality and nature of democracy and freedom on Taiwan are such that they would work on the Chinese mainland.
Tourists from the Chinese mainland are passionate. They are easily moved. Many tourists from the Chinese mainland have the highest praise for bus passengers who give up their seats to the infirm, and escalator users who stand on the right. When businesses wait for tourists from the Chinese mainland to pay their bills, everyone on Taiwan should arrive at a tacit understanding. Why not greet tourists from the Chinese mainland with a free and democratic society? That way, when they leave Taiwan, what they will remember the most clearly will not be oyster omlets or pineapple cake, but democracy and freedom.
Do not fail the people who have made human contact. Do not betray the hearts and minds of the people as they dialogue with each other. Tourists from the Chinese mainland may take home with them pineapple cakes. These will last a few days at most. But if they come to respect and cherish freedom and democracy on Taiwan, that will be more important to cross-Strait peace than any business opportunities,