TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan said a record 2.6 million Chinese nationals visited the island last year, up a massive 45 per cent from 2011, highlighting the fast improving ties between Taipei and Beijing.
Last year, two million Chinese arrived in Taiwan for sightseeing while another 570,000 came for business and other purposes, compared with a total of 1.8 million in 2011, the tourism bureau said.
The figures excluded visitors from the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, which came in at one million in 2012, up 24 per cent from the previous year, the bureau said.
Taiwan has seen a dramatic influx of visitors from mainland China since the island's Beijing-friendly government lifted a ban on Chinese group tourists in 2008 and further allowed in solo tourists in mid-2011.
China has replaced Japan to become the biggest source of visitors to Taiwan and Chinese tourists are among the biggest shoppers on the island, spending more than Tw$85.7 billion (S$3.6billion) last year, the government data showed.
And the number of Chinese tourists is expected to grow with Taiwan set to increase their quota by 40 per cent to allow 7,000 arrivals a day starting in May, in a fresh bid to boost travel from the mainland.
Relations have improved in recent years but Beijing still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the sides have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.
The flood of Chinese nationals holidaying in Taiwan helped boost the total number of international arrivals by 20 per cent to a new high of 7.31 million in 2012, generating an estimated Tw$340 billion ($11.7 billion) in tourism revenue, the bureau said.