BEIJING — Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party on Wednesday approved relaxation of a 38-year-old travel ban so that Taiwan citizens will be able to visit relatives in mainland China.
All Taiwan citizens, with the exception of military personnel and civil servants, will be allowed to visit relatives "by blood or marriage" on the mainland, the party announced in a press release distributed to reporters in Taiwan after a meeting of its Central Standing Committee.
Officials of the Executive Yuan, the administrative arm of Taiwan's government, are to work out further details of the new policy.
The decision was welcomed by authorities in Beijing, who said that Taiwan should also allow China's citizens to visit relatives on the island.
Taiwan officials have insisted that relaxation of the travel ban, in effect since the Nationalist Chinese government took refuge in Taiwan in 1949 after losing to the Communists in China's civil war, would not represent a change in a longstanding policy of "no contact, no compromise and no negotiations" with Beijing.
But the change still is viewed as a major shift in policy that could help promote the eventual reunification of Taiwan and China.
About 2 million people, including many soldiers, fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist government. Many of them now want to visit friends and relatives who stayed behind.
Taiwan's President Chiang Ching-kuo "apparently wants to break the stalemate himself and thus make it easier for the next generation to approach (China) for possible reunification," Peng Huai-en, publisher of the monthly magazine Fengyung (Fame), told the Associated Press in Taipei.
The mainland's official New China News Agency quoted an unidentified government official who said that "Taiwan compatriots are warmly welcome" but that visits should be allowed in both directions, with mainland residents permitted to visit relatives in Taiwan.
Taiwan's government has stated that visits by mainlanders will not be allowed. Government spokesman Shao Yu-ming told reporters in Taipei earlier that this is because the island, which is much more prosperous than the mainland, is too crowded to absorb immigrants.
"If Chinese from Taiwan go (to the mainland) we know very well all of them will come back, but we can't be sure everyone from Communist China (would) go back," Shao said.