BEIJING • Chinese tourists are being put off visiting Taiwan because of the "highly politicised" atmosphere there ahead of January's elections, a government spokesman said yesterday, but would not say if Beijing was telling people not to go.
Taiwan elections are always sensitive in Communist Party-ruled China, worried that the democratic winds from across the Taiwan Strait could cause the Chinese people to wonder why their own government won't allow free polls.
China has made little secret of its dislike for the election front runner, Ms Tsai Ing-wen from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally favoured an independent Taiwan.
China considers self-ruled Taiwan, where defeated Kuomintang forces fled to in 1949 after losing to the communists in the Chinese civil war, an integral part of its territory, and would consider a declaration of independence tantamount to war.
Chinese tourists have flocked to Taiwan since landmark economic deals were signed in 2008 as part of a thaw in ties, but Taiwan's media has reported that China will slash the number of tourists it allows to visit in the run-up to the elections.
Asked if this was the case, Mr An Fengshan, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan was in a very "special and sensitive time" and implied Chinese tourists may be in danger during the election period.
"The atmosphere in society has been highly politicised. Mainland tour groups will consider their own interests and tourists to Taiwan will consider the travel environment," Mr An told a regular news briefing, carried live on state television.
"Looking at previous situations, these kinds of things have various levels of effects upon the desire of mainland tourists to visit Taiwan," he added.
China hoped for the stable development of tourism to Taiwan and that tourists' rights can be "paid attention to and guaranteed", Mr An said. He did not elaborate.
Taiwan's government has said China will not radically cut the number of tourists it allows in around election time, but admits that there may be some impact.
Mr An's remarks came a day after the release of Taiwan's 2015 National Defence Report, which warned on Tuesday that Beijing is actively building up its armed forces and would be strong enough by 2020 to launch an invasion of the island.
Despite closer political ties, China is "continuing to accumulate large-scale war capabilities, with the threat of a cross-strait military conflict continuing to exist", according to the military report.
The mainland's annual military spending has grown on average by double-digit rates over the past decade, second only to the United States', it said.
The biennial report published by the defence ministry said that China was strengthening its naval and air forces in the region to deter foreign forces from intervening in any invasion.
The ministry said there was a risk of Taiwan letting its guard down because of increased economic and cultural exchanges in recent years.
"Overall, China is diversifying its Taiwan strategy, forging positive developments in the cross-strait situation, giving it an advantage for any future attacks on Taiwan," its report said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE