TAIPEI • Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday rebuked China over a ban on individual permits for Chinese visitors to the self-ruled island, saying the move aimed to manipulate its coming presidential election, amid heightened tension with its giant neighbour.
In a blow to Taiwan's tourism industry, which has recently seen an increase in mainland visitors, China said it would stop issuing the permits starting yesterday, citing the state of ties with what it considers a wayward province.
"Using tourists as political tools would only create antipathy in the Taiwanese people," Ms Tsai told reporters in the presidential palace in Taipei, criticising what she called a "major strategic mistake".
"Tourism shouldn't be politicised," she said, adding that past experience showed China had manipulated politics by clamping down on tourist numbers ahead of elections.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in response that history would show which side was making the mistake.
"Saying this (the travel restrictions) is a mistake - I think history will demonstrate who was on the correct side and who made a mistake," Ms Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing when Reuters sought comment on Ms Tsai's remark.
Taiwan is set to hold its presidential election next January, at a time of precarious relations with China, which has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control, if necessary.
Ms Tsai faces an uphill battle in the race, amid criticism over her party's reform agenda as Beijing, which suspects her of pushing for the island's formal independence, ratchets up diplomatic and military pressure. China has triggered regional tension with military drills this week near Taiwan, Ms Tsai said, calling them an intimidation move ahead of the election.
"The Chinese military threat is targeting all Taiwanese and impacting peace, stability and safety in the region," she said.
The exercises came days after Beijing reiterated it was ready to fight if there was any move towards independence for Taiwan.
On Wednesday evening, a Chinese warship collided with a Taiwanese freighter, damaging the bulk carrier, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration said.
The collision occurred around 20 nautical miles south-east of Taiwan-controlled Kinmen island off China's south-east coast, according to a statement from the coast guard. No injuries were reported.
The statement identified the Chinese vessel as a People's Liberation Army warship.
The coast guard said it managed to make contact with the Chinese ship suspected of being involved in the crash, but the captain declined to assist in an investigation into the incident.
The incident took place on an established shipping lane after dark, Kinmen Coast Guard spokesman Chen Chien-wen said by phone yesterday. Investigators are looking into how the collision occurred.
Taiwan is among a growing number of flashpoints in US-China ties, ranging from a trade war to US sanctions to China's increasingly muscular military role in the South China Sea, where the US also runs freedom-of-navigation patrols.
The United States has increased the number of transits by its warships through the Taiwan Strait this year, signalling its support for the island in the face of Chinese threats to reclaim Taiwan by force.
Last week, a US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, angering China.