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South Korean rep positive about tourism in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- South Korea's new representative to Taiwan has lauded tourism in the country and said that it is a safe place to travel, downplaying concerns that a recent case in which a South Korean tourist was allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted by a Taiwanese taxi driver could impact the tourism industry.

During a recent interview with CNA, Yang Chang-soo -- head of the Korean Mission in Taipei -- said through an interpreter that although the case might hurt the image of Taiwan, it could also be turned into an opportunity, if the Taiwanese authorities demonstrate their resoluteness in dealing with such problems.

This was an isolated incident and similar things could happen in almost every country, said Yang, who took up his post in Taiwan late last year.

On Jan. 15, a Taiwanese taxi driver, surnamed Chan, was detained for allegedly molesting one of three South Korean women who hired him to drive them around northern Taiwan on Jan. 12.

Chan, a married man from neighboring New Taipei, is accused of giving the women a drugged soft drink before sexually assaulting one of the two women who passed out in his vehicle. The third woman, who was not affected because she had only a sip of the drink, got out of the taxi to tour a night market, which is when the assault occurred.

The incident came amid a rise in tourist arrivals between Taiwan and South Korea.

Taiwan saw a total of 880,000 visitor arrivals from South Korea in 2016, a 35 percent increase from the previous year, Yang said, adding that the number of Taiwanese tourist arrivals in South Korea reached 830,000 in 2016.

Both sides have set a goal of raising the combined number to 2 million in 2017.

Asked if he was worried that the sexual assault case would affect the development of bilateral tourism, Yang noted that as people-to-people contacts increase, there will inevitably be problems. The most important thing is to deal with such issues properly when they do arise, he said.

However, Yang said that the recent case could undermine the international image of Taiwan and both South Korea and Taiwan are working to avoid any such misperception.

Taiwan, which boasts beautiful scenery and delicious food, is safe to visit, said Yang, who holidayed with his family here in July 2016.

Meanwhile, he noted that most South Korean tourists have to rely on taxis when traveling in Taiwan. They are unable to rent a car and drive themselves because Taiwan and South Korea do not recognize each other's driving licenses, he said.

Yang said he would be pushing to change that situation during his tenure as South Korea's representative to Taiwan.

Speaking of his mission in Taiwan, Yang noted the importance of trade relations and people-to-people exchanges between the two sides, adding that Seoul would work hand in hand with Taipei to advance bilateral exchanges in those areas.

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