Written by J.Michael Cole.
As tour operators prepare to protest next Monday to call on the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration to help the sagging tourism industry, a spokesman for the Travel Agent Association of the R.O.C. Taiwan attributes a drop in Chinese tourists to online rudeness by the Taiwanese.
Ringo Lee (李奇嶽), spokesman for the Association, said on Wednesday that dwindling numbers in Chinese arrivals to Taiwan were not the result of a decision by Chinese authorities to punish the Tsai administration for refusing to acknowledge the so-called “1992 consensus,” but rather “smearing language” used by Taiwanese netizens to refer to Chinese people.
According to Mainland Affairs Council statistics released this week, the number of Chinese tourist arrivals to Taiwan has dropped 22 percent since President Tsai’s inauguration on May 20 over the same period last year. On Aug. 31, Minister of Transportation and Communications Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) projected a decrease of 600,000 Chinese tourists to Taiwan this year from the 4.18 million in 2015.
Jessica Yu (尤敏華), secretary of the Hotel Association of the Republic of China, notes that the hotel occupancy rate across Taiwan has dropped 50 percent. Meanwhile, Chang Tien-tsai (張天財), secretary-general of the National Joint Association of Buses for Tourists of the Republic of China, said that about 80 percent of the 16,000 tourist buses around the nation are currently idle due to the drop in Chinese tourists.
For Lee, who says the intent of Monday’s protest isn’t to pressure Tsai to embrace the “1992 consensus,” lack of Taiwanese civility is the main cause of the drop in Chinese arrivals.
“We need to stop using smearing language about Chinese people, especially on the Internet,” Lee said.
Discussing the same issue earlier this week on his Facebook, Minister without Portfolio Chang Ching-sen (張景森), convener of a Cabinet task force set up to attract Chinese tourists, also beseeched Taiwanese netizens to stop posting satirical and derogatory comments about the Chinese.
“These kinds of comments serve only to provoke Chinese people’s antipathy toward Taiwan. Should that become widespread, I see a real danger for Taiwan,” he wrote. “No matter how you look at the Beijing government, I hope you Internet users will be able to tell Chinese people apart from their government and realize that Chinese tourists are our most-needed friends.” (Ironically, earlier this year president-elect Tsai had to tell the same Chang to stop posting comments on his Facebook page after he ridiculed Taiwan’s civil society.)
However, dwindling numbers may be part of larger trends and changing patterns in Chinese outbound tourism and not, as Lee and Chang claim, lack of online etiquette.
During the January-to-June period, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan experienced a 7 percent drop in visits from China, Forbes reports. Of course we could also accuse the people of Hong Kong and Macau of being “rude” toward the Chinese online and hurting their tourism industries. But then again, this would not explain the increase in the number of Chinese tourists who visited Japan — where antipathy also runs high — during the same period.
Whatever the reasons for the drop in Chinese tourists, it’s a bit precious to attribute this to “rude” comments by Taiwanese netizens. In fact, this comes very close to blaming the victim — to wit, Chinese sovereignty claims over Taiwan, the 1,600 or so ballistic missiles aimed at it, the constant threats and efforts to isolate it internationally and so on. Not to mention such controversies as the Leon Dai (戴立忍) or Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) cases, or the denial of entry visas to Hong Kong to several Taiwanese in recent years. Of, for that matter, the many instances where Chinese netizens and “youth organizations” have viciously attacked the Taiwanese.
That isn’t to say that Taiwanese netizens should not occupy the high moral ground by indeed being courteous toward the Chinese, who after all cannot be completely blamed for the actions of their quite despicable government. But to turn the tables and portray the Taiwanese public as the perpetrators in all this? Come on. For every netizen who has poked fun at the Chinese, hundreds of them have displayed nothing but patience and kindness over the years.
J. Michael Cole is the chief editor of The News Lens International, a senior non-resident fellow with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute. This article was first posted on The News Lens and can be found here. Image credit: CC by Bryansjs/Flickr.