Taiwan reporters break China travel ban

Peking scored a propaganda victory Tuesday by welcoming the first Taiwan journalists to publicly break Taipei's 38-year-long ban on visits by its citizens to mainland China. Journalists Lee Yung-teh, 33, and Hsu Lu, 30, of Taiwan's Independent Evening Post flew to Peking from Tokyo aboard a Chinese civilian jet and were greeted early Tuesday morning by representatives of the official China news service.

The visit by the Taiwan journalists marks the first reported since 1949, when communist forces won China's civil war and drove the Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government to the island of Taiwan. It tests both China's repeated offers since the early 1980s to facilitate visits between relatives separated by the Taiwan Strait, and Taiwan's indications it will begin approving limited travel to the mainland.

As part of a gradual political liberalization begun last year, Taiwan authorities have been expected this month to relax the ban on mainland travel for citizens over the age of 55 who are not active servicemen or civil servants. Nevertheless, the authorities responded harshly to the reporters' trip and threatened to revoke their right to travel abroad for an unspecified period for violating a new national security law.

In contrast, Western diplomats said, Peking's quick approval of the visit has upstaged efforts by Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo to appear more liberal and enlightened on the travel issue.

``Both sides want to look more open and flexible than the other,'' said one Western diplomat. ``It's like a badminton game, shuttling back and forth. In the latest match, the mainland seems to have won.''

China's official media has publicized the visit domestically on the radio and in the press, saying the reporters have come ``using their own funds to visit relatives, tour, and gather news.''

Arriving at Peking's airport, the two journalists said they made the trip to write about living standards in China and about the problems facing other Taiwan residents who seek to visit the mainland. They are scheduled to spent three or four days in Peking before traveling to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou.

Whether the trip ultimately benefits the propaganda efforts of Peking or Taipei depends also on what the journalists report after the visit, Western diplomats said.

There has been speculation that Taiwan authorities are preparing to permit travel to the mainland partially because they believe Taiwan's citizens will be dismayed by China's relative poverty.

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