The Chinese mainland will remove the entry permit requirements for Taiwan residents from today. This means Taiwan residents won't have to apply for a visa-like entry permit to visit the mainland; only a travel pass will do.
The policy revision will also ease the document requirements for Taiwan residents applying for a travel pass, providing them with a new type of pass which would be valid for three months. Taibaozheng, an identification document that carries the entry permits for Taiwan compatriots, will now be made into a card for self-entry service through designated airports and ports.
Aimed at making the exchange of personnel between the two sides of the Straits easier, the new permit-free policy is already seen as a milestone in the mainland's efforts to deepen cross-Straits relations, which is undergoing crucial changes at present.
Indeed, the two sides have experienced unprecedented peace and economic integration over the past seven years. But some worrying trends have also been seen, with the stalled commodity trade agreement and anti-service trade agreement movement in Taiwan, and the ruling Kuomintang Party's defeat in the island's biggest local elections last year being examples.
Coming six months before Taiwan's 2016 leadership election, the favorable entry-permit policy for Taiwan residents that is expected to boost cross-Straits exchanges shows the mainland's determination to safeguard the hard-won cross-Straits stability.
The favorable policy is expected to prompt more Taiwan residents to visit the mainland more frequently. Taiwan residents reportedly made more than 10 million trips to the mainland in 2014, reflecting the importance of easier entry regulations. Therefore, it is highly likely that the new policy will inspire more Taiwan compatriots, including youngsters and irregular visitors, to choose the mainland as a major sightseeing and holiday destination, and even for economic, cultural, and academic exchanges.
The simplified procedure for entering the mainland will benefit the taibaozheng holders, who can easily travel to their destinations so long as their documents are valid. Earlier, they were required to apply for a visa-like entry permit to visit the mainland that cost 100 yuan ($16), which despite being a small amount might have created a sense of distance among many applicants. But from this month, they no longer have to do so.
Moreover, the permit-free travel facility conforms to modern travel norms. On one hand, it recognizes and adapts to the global permit-free trend to boost people-to-people exchanges. On the other, it honors modern governance by making taibaozheng an integral part of a card.
Being convenient, identification cards have played an indispensable role in managing the flow of people in the age of information. The new taibaozheng, therefore, will not only make it easier for Taiwan compatriots to stay and work in the mainland, but also enable them to get temporary residence permits more easily if the process is bonded with the mainland's ID system.
And in the long run, the mainland's attempt to improve cross-Straits personnel exchanges will inject vigor into the ongoing integration process between the two sides.
The author is a professor at the Institute of Taiwan Studies of Beijing Union University.