Taiwan raises China tourist quota amid heavy demand

TAIPEI, April 21 (Reuters) - Taiwan, once afraid to let in more than a trickle of tourists from political rival China, has raised its permit quota to meet a recent surge in demand, an immigration official said on Tuesday.

From now through May 1, a popular travel holiday in China, Taiwan will issue up to 7,200 permits per day to Chinese tourists, more than double the 3,000-person ceiling set last summer when the island first began courting the China market, said Chiu Hsin-ying, a Taiwan immigration service official.

The quota will fall to about 4,300 after May 1, he said.

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT) fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.

After China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office last May, his government signed a deal with Beijing to let in as many as 3,000 Chinese tourists per day, despite historic security concerns, to help the island’s sagging economy.

“The 3,000 was just to start with,” Ma’s spokesman, Tony Wang, said. “The spirit was that the number could be raised.”

Beijing began aggressively promoting Taiwan tourism this year to get headcounts up after a dismal first half, when headcounts numbered in the hundreds, disappointing the service sector that expected Chinese travel spending.

Those lower numbers justify quota increases now, Chiu said.

Taiwan's tourism sub-index .THOI finished its session on Tuesday up 3.73 percent.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie