International edition
June 19, 2021

To attract Chinese tourists and revitalize the economy

Taiwan betting on "casino islands"

(Taiwan).- Penghu, a set of islets off Taiwan, is trying to be the next Macao by building a casino town to lure Chinese tourists. Casinos are illegal in Taiwan and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian is wary of becoming economically dependent on China, is cautious about the plan.

B

ut presidential candidates of both ruling and opposition parties eyeing next spring's election are more open to the idea.

Penghu sits in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China and is about 45 minutes from Taipei by plane. With a population of about 70,000, the bulk of the islets' income is generated from tourism, and marketing its seafood and relaxed atmosphere.

As tourists from Taiwan have leveled off, some residents believe the casino will attract Chinese tourists and revitalize the islands' economy.

Penghu County Prefect Wang Chien-fa said: "I want the casino to be the first step toward making the islands a resort destination. We are aiming for a 10-fold increase in tourist numbers, to 5 million per year." Wang is promoting the idea of direct flights between Penghu and China, which are currently banned.

Attempting to emulate Singapore, the city-state is now set on building a casino resort for Chinese tourists. Penghu County Council Speaker Liu Chen Chao-lin said, "Taiwan's population is 23 million, whereas China's is 1.3 billion, which is very attractive."

The casino idea emerged during the 1990s and grew legs when Chen lifted the ban in April on Chinese tourists traveling to Penghu. Construction work on Penghu's most luxurious hotel started in July, and in late August, county and local tourism businessmen and officials flocked to a casino forum held in Taipei.

Taiwan has been accepting a limited number of Chinese tourists since 2002, providing they come via Southeast Asian or other countries. Chinese tourists numbered about 98,500 last year, an about 80 percent increase from the previous year.

If China and Taiwan agree to totally lift the ban on Chinese tourists, more than 350,000 Chinese will be allowed to cross the Taiwan Strait. People in regional Taiwan -who have been hit by the slow economy - count on Chinese tourists. One tourist agent said, "They speak the same language as us, and they spend money on souvenirs."

But only 117 Chinese have visited Penghu since the ban was lifted in April, and they comprised a tourism study mission.

Even though Wang pledged not to allow adult entertainment businesses, many islanders worry that casinos may make the islands less safe and also corrupt public morality.

Penghu is a strategic defense point for Taiwan, causing many figures in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to worry about Chinese flowing into the islands. Consequently, it may take some time and many heated debates before any dice roll across a casino table in Penghu.

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