Taiwan seeks visa reciprocity from Manila

Taiwan will continue talks with the Philippines on granting visa-free status to Taiwanese nationals, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) said yesterday, a day after the government announced plans to give Filipinos visa-free privileges.

Speaking on the sidelines of a legislative hearing, Lee said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hoped that Taiwan and the Philippines would develop a reciprocal arrangement on the visa issue.

The lack of reciprocity from the Philippines after Taiwan announced its policy sparked concerns of an unequal relationship between Taipei and Manila.

The Cabinet on Thursday said that Premier William Lai (賴清德) had approved a plan on a trial basis to allow Filipino citizens to enter Taiwan for 14 days without a visa, as part of government efforts to promote its New Southbound Policy.

Although the government has not said when the new program will begin and Lee would not comment on the issue, sources said it could start next month at the earliest.

Asked whether Taiwan was confident it could secure reciprocal treatment from the Philippines, Lee said it would depend on how future talks proceed.

In response to Taiwan’s announcement, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei on Thursday said that the Philippines is looking to provide a reciprocal loosening of travel regulations for Taiwanese visitors.

To promote its New Southbound Policy, the government first relaxed visa rules last year for ASEAN member states and India.

Taiwan also included the Philippines in its electronic visa program on Oct. 7 last year.

In related news, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Yang Wei-fu (楊偉甫) yesterday said that Taipei and Manila are expected to renew a bilateral investment agreement signed 20 years ago by the end of the year.

Yang, who was attending a trade fair in the Philippines, said he received positive feedback from Philippine authorities on the possible renewal of the agreement at a bilateral industry conference on Thursday.

There was also progress made on a bilateral free-trade agreement, Yang said.

The New Southbound Policy, launched in May last year, is aimed at enhancing the nation’s relations with countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The government hopes that the policy will forge closer ties with these countries in a bid to reduce Taiwan’s economic dependence on China.

 

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2017/09/30/2003679429

Govt to unveil low-cost flat plan soon: sources

Sources say the government will next week announce a pilot scheme to let charities run more than 300 low-cost flats to be rented out to needy families.

The idea was first floated in July by the Transport and Housing Secretary, Frank Chan, who said that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could operate government-approved subdivided flats.

But the sources told RTHK that instead of dividing the flats into small units, residents taking part in the scheme will live in the same flat and share the living room and bathroom.

It’s understood that the government hopes that more property owners will rent out their flats to be used in this way.

 

http://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1354114-20170914.htm

KMRT light rail to start charging

The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (KMRT) system’s light rail line is to begin charging fares in November, the KMRT Bureau said yesterday.

Travel on the light rail line, the first of its kind in Taiwan, has been free since it opened in October 2015, but with the extension of the line this year a sharp increase in the number of passengers, a fare schedule will be established, bureau Director Wu Yi-long (吳義隆) said.

The line, which opened with four stops, was extended in June to the popular Pier-2 Art Center in Kaohsiung Port and has 14 stations.

Trams run from Lizihnei Station (C1) to Dayi Pier-2 Station (C12), with the section to Hamasen Station (C14) to open on Sept. 30.

Although fares are to be introduced in November, they will be half-price for the first two months, he said.

The 8.7km waterfront rail is part of the Kaohsiung Circular Line that was designed to complete the city’s metro service network.

There are about 13,000 passengers per day on work days and nearly 20,000 on weekends and holidays, Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp said.

In related news, the city is to open an electric car rental station on Oct. 1 as part the its electric car-sharing system, the city’s Transportation Bureau said.

The station is to be at the No. 2 exit of the KMRT’s Sizihwan Station (西子灣), the bureau said, adding that five electric cars will be available for free during the month.

The city government in May signed a contract with the electric car rental company Unicar, it said.

Over the next two years, 50 electric car rental stations are to open, offering a total of 84 vehicles at a tentative rate of NT$150 per 30 minutes, it said.

The first 10 stations are to be set up by May next year near the high-speed rail system’s Zuoying Station (左營), railway stations, MRT stations, department stores and hospitals in the city.

 http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2017/09/11/2003678238

Retail sales in Hong Kong see highest growth in over two years thanks to local consumption

A stock market boom and rising property prices in July prompted Hong Kong retail sales to grow at their fastest rate in more than two years, potentially spelling the end of a years-long downturn.

 

July sales jumped 4 per cent compared with the same period last year, significantly higher than the 0.1 per cent growth in the previous month, government statistics revealed on Tuesday.

Industry insiders attributed the stronger-than-expected growth to robust local consumption and improved inbound tourism, and expected the trend to continue in the second half of the year with support of a stable labour market.

 

“We are overjoyed at the July figure. The growth is much better than we have expected,” Thomson Cheng Wai-hung, chairman at Retail Management Association said on Tuesday.

He expected the full-year growth to hit 1 per cent, despite the 0.6 per cent decline in the first half.

This would put an end to a two-year contraction of the city’s once-booming industry, as big-spending mainland shoppers flew elsewhere to buy luxuries.

Retail sales in the city dropped for 25 consecutive months until a mild rebound in March.

Cheng said local consumers were a main driver for the upbeat figure, as they felt more comfortable spending money on big-tickets items, with their wealth boosted by the rising value of stocks and properties.

 

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/2108798/retail-sales-hong-kong-see-highest-rise-over-two-years-thanks

Court acquits Ma over classified data leak

The Taipei District Court yesterday found former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) not guilty of abetting a leak of classified information related to an investigation of a then-opposition lawmaker while the probe was in progress in 2013.

Prosecutors said they would appeal the verdict.

In September 2013, it was uncovered that then-prosecutor-general Huang Shyh-ming (黃世銘) had shown Ma a transcript of wiretapped conversations collected in an investigation of an alleged breach of trust by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘).

Prosecutors contended that Ma encouraged Huang to leak the contents of the wiretaps, Ker’s personal information and other data related to the investigation to then-premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and then-Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強).

Huang was convicted in February 2015 for breaches of the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, commutable to a fine of NT$457,000, which he has since paid.

Ma was president at the time, giving him immunity from criminal prosecution.

However, after leaving office in May last year, he was summoned as a potential defendant in the case on Dec. 1.

On March 14, Ma was indicted on charges of violating the Criminal Code, the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法).

During the trial, Ma placed heavy emphasis on “special presidential executive powers,” which he said granted him the right to inquire about ongoing criminal investigations to prepare for potential crises that could destabilize the government.

However, prosecutors contended that Ma, as a former minister of justice, should know well the need to keep such information confidential.

“There should be other methods through which a president could handle such matters, and no incident created the necessity nor urgency to break such confidentiality,” prosecutors said.

The judge yesterday said that while Ma’s conveyance of the information to Jiang and Lo breached confidentiality, it was “in accordance with the law.”

Ma office spokesman Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) quoted the former president as saying that he was gratified by the result and that the ruling was not only about his personal rights, but also establishing the rightful extent of a president’s executive powers under the Constitution.

Lo called on the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office not to appeal the ruling and save what dignity Taiwan’s judiciary might still have, as well as the office some face.

DPP spokesperson Ruan Jhao-syong (阮昭雄) said that the party regretted the ruling, but would respect the results.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiao-kuang and Su Fang-ho

 

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2017/08/26/2003677187

SAR residents to get improved access to mainland

The official Xinhua news agency says Beijing is looking at making it easier for Hong Kong and Macau residents to live on the mainland. President Xi Jinping has already called for such measures, and the move comes as Chief Executive Carrie Lam ended her four-day visit to the capital.

Xinhua said people from Hong Kong and Macau, who work on the mainland, will get equal rights to housing provident funds so they can buy homes and settle there. Currently, mainlanders put part of their salaries into such funds – along with a contribution from their employers – so they can get low interest home loans and other benefits.

Beijing also wants Hong Kong and Macau residents to be eligible for social security, if they are working or studying across the border. It said the Ministry of Education will ensure equal opportunities for students from the SARs to receive compulsory education.

Universities would also try to help Hong Kong and Macau students deal with the red tape they often face when trying to find a job on the mainland.

Another inconvenience faced by SAR residents – not being able to use their Return Homeland Passes at self-service ticket machines at train stations – is also being looked at.

 

http://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1347326-20170810.htm

Taiwan attends Thai fair, seeks increase in travelers

Taiwan is participating in an international travel exhibition in Bangkok to attract more visitors from Thailand, the Tourism Bureau said yesterday.

The bureau has teamed up with the Taiwan Visitors Association, hotel operators, farm resort operators and souvenir vendors to set up a Taiwan pavilion at the Thai International Travel Fair, which runs from today to Sunday at the Queen Sirikit Convention Center.

The fair is held twice a year: in February and August.

The bureau said Taiwan regards Thailand as one of the fastest-growing markets at a time when the government is pushing its New Southbound Policy.

The policy is aimed at boosting ties with Southeast Asian and South Asian nations in a bid to lessen Taiwan’s economic dependence on China.

To attract more travelers from Thailand, the government has granted visa-free privileges to Thais since Aug. 1 last year, which has boosted the number of Thai visitors to Taiwan.

Statistics compiled by the bureau showed that arrivals from Thailand from August to December last year rose 81 percent from a year earlier.

In December alone, the figure grew about 90 percent year-on-year.

For the whole of last year, the number of Thai visitors rose almost 60 percent from a year earlier, the data showed.

Participation in the fair is expected to further boost Taiwan’s visibility among Thais, it said.

The Taiwanese exhibitors will highlight the nation as a romantic destination for visitors, as well as travelers in search of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, and shopping, the bureau said.

Visitors to the Taiwan pavilion can expect discounts and travel information that can be used when they come to Taiwan, it added.