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Taipei mayor talks up travel to Taiwan during Beijing trip

TAIPEI--Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin promoted tourism in Taiwan during two meetings in Beijing on Friday, telling one Chinese official that Taiwan is hoping to attract 10 million international visitors a year to Taiwan by 2016.

In a meeting with Chen Deming, head of China's semi-official Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, Hau said the number of foreign travelers to Taiwan has reached 8 million and is expected to surpass 9 million in 2015 before breaching the 10 million mark in 2016.

China is the biggest source of visitors to Taiwan, accounting for 2.87 million, or nearly 36 percent, of the 8.02 million visitor arrivals to Taiwan last year, and it is likely to drive much of the future growth of the country's tourist sector.

Chen revealed that the Chinese government will expand its free independent traveler program by allowing citizens from more cities in China to visit Taiwan without joining a tour group in the second half of the year.

Earlier Friday, Hau met with Beijing Municipal Communist Party Secretary Guo Jinlong and told him there was enormous room for growth from the 250,000 Beijing residents who traveled to Taipei last year given Beijing's population of more than 21 million people.

According to a Taipei City official, Guo promised to help promote tourism in Taipei by shifting interest in the popular tourist destinations of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to Taipei or even Taiwan.

Hau said Taiwan and China should gradually extend the current people-to-people interactions between the two sides to government-to-government exchanges to establish mutual trust.

This could start with city-to-city exchanges, Hau said, while particularly stressing the importance of promoting exchanges between young people on the two sides.

Hau began a four-day visit to Beijing on Thursday. It's his first visit there since taking over as mayor in late 2006.

On Sunday, the mayor is expected to meet Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, who concluded a four-day visit to Taiwan on Saturday.

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