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Number of countries granting Taiwan visa-waiver privileges hits 97

TAIPEI -- President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that the number of countries that have granted visa-waiver privileges to Taiwanese passport holders has increased to 97, indicating that the government's “flexible diplomacy” strategy has borne fruit.

“The Balkan country of Croatia began offering visa exemption to Taiwanese visitors at the beginning of this year, bringing the number of countries and territories granting such access to our people to 97,” Ma said at a function to celebrate the European Union's inclusion of Taiwan into its visa-waiver program.

The Croatian move came as a surprise, as the ceremony at the Taipei Guest House near the Presidential Office was originally arranged to mark the visa-free privileges extended by 96 countries and areas, Ma said.

He also hailed the EU's decision to have its visa exemption for Taiwan take effect Jan. 11 which he said was a memorable and meaningful day, because on that date in 1943, the Republic of China managed to abrogate all unequal treaties with foreign powers that had been in place for more than a century.

“This is truly a happy coincidence,” said Ma.

According to the EU decision, Taiwanese visitors will be able to enter 35 European countries visa free from Jan. 11 for stays of up to 90 days within a six-month period.

The waiver applies to the 25 Schengen Area countries, which comprise 22 EU member states and three non-EU states — Norway, Iceland and Switzerland — and three non-Schengen EU member states — Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

It also includes seven smaller European countries and territories — the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Ma said he believes that these countries will benefit from the visa exemption for Taiwanese visitors because “Taiwanese citizens are not only good tourists but are also known for their ability to shop.”

For instance, he went on, since Britain became the first European country to grant visa-free privileges to Taiwanese in 2009, the number of Taiwanese tourists to that country has increased substantially and bilateral trade has also grown by between 20 percent and 30 percent.

Speaking on the same occasion, Guy Ledoux, head of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, said Taiwan's booming economy and democratic system are the main factors contributing to its success in obtaining EU visa-free treatment.

With its advanced economic system, Taiwan has developed a reliable administrative system and is able to issue high-quality passports and effectively prevent passport tampering or forgery, Ledoux said.

As Taiwanese people are peaceful and affluent, and enjoy freedom of speech and civil rights, there are few incentives for Taiwanese citizens to seek to immigrate illegally to other countries, he pointed out.

According to official statistics, an average of only 45 Taiwanese passport holders per year were caught staying illegally in EU countries between 2006 and 2008, and only 38 Taiwanese people were denied entry during the period. Ledoux said the visa-waiver is expected to help enhance Taiwan's interest in investing and traveling in Europe, as well as increase incentives for Taiwanese and European cities to forge sisterhood ties.

Premier Wu Den-yih, Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng and Foreign Minister Timothy Yang, also attended the function.

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