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China to remove visa requirements for Taiwanese

[BEIJING] China will lift an entry permit requirement for Taiwanese travelling to the mainland, state media reported on Sunday, part of a wider plan to reduce barriers between the two communities.

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, made the announcement at a forum in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, but did not give a date when the policy would take effect.

"We'll consistently support exchanges among compatriots of the two sides and firmly oppose the separatist forces' obstructive intent to the peaceful development of the relations," Mr Yu said, according to Xinhua, referring to political parties that want to declare Taiwan as a separate country.

China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification by force if necessary. The self-ruled island split from China at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan residents currently need to apply for the permit, similar to a visa, before travelling to the mainland. As part of the reform, the passport-like document that was previously required will be replaced with a card allowing automatic entry, Xinhua said.

Taiwanese made more than five million visits to the mainland in 2014, according to official statistics reported by Xinhua, an increase of about one million from 2008. Meanwhile mainland tourists made roughly four million trips to Taiwan last year, up from 280,000 in 2008, Xinhua said.

Currently residents from 47 mainland cities can travel to Taiwan as individuals, as opposed to group tours, a policy that was introduced in 2011 with just four cities.

Since he became president in 2008, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's pro-Beijing Kuomintang party has led a rapprochement with China, with more than 20 trade deals and a tourism boom as mainland visitors flock to the island.

But many ordinary Taiwanese feel they have reaped little benefit from the trade pacts and worry about getting closer to Beijing, which led to massive protests and the three-week occupation of parliament over a trade deal last year.