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China suspends exchange visits to Taiwan
Tue, Feb 12, 2008
Reuters

TAIPEI - CHINA has suspended academic and professional exchange visits to Taiwan to avoid appearances of trying to influence the island's tight presidential race as part of Beijing's new hands-off approach, media reported on Tuesday.

Since Jan 1, China has dropped requests to visit Taiwan and will approve them only after the March 22 polls, Taiwan's Chinese-language Economic Daily reported.

Professional exchanges apply to scholars, trade associations and nongovernmental organisations.

Before elections in 2000 and 2004, China threatened Taiwan and conducted military exercises near the island, causing a backlash that put anti-Beijing presidents in power.

But Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack if the island formalises its de facto independence, has taken a more hands-off approach to the latest presidential elections.

'To avoid adding unnecessary changes to the presidential election, the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office will suspend applications from organisation to go to Taiwan for an exchange,' the paper said, citing travel industry sources.

The suspension affects 200 groups totalling about 4,000 people expected to reach Taiwan, the paper reported. The suspended exchanges do not cover work-related business visits.

A total of 375,000 Chinese citizens have visited Taiwan for professional exchanges, according to the Taiwan government.

Chinese government offices were closed and officials not available for comment on Tuesday.

Next month, voters on the democratic island will choose between Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally takes a hard line on China, and Ma Ying-jeou, candidate of the more China-friendly Nationalist Party (KMT).

'It's pretty clear that China is doing this intentionally because of the election,' said Mr Tung Chen-yuan, vice-chairman of the government's Mainland Affairs Council.

'We think it's regrettable China would do this to cross-Strait exchanges.' -- REUTERS

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