A record number of more than 8 million people traveled across the Taiwan Straits in 2013 amid closer ties between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, a Beijing spokesman said on Wednesday.

Among the travelers, 2.2 million were mainland tourists to Taiwan, an 11-percent rise compared with the previous year, said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, at a press conference.

The number of individual tourists from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan hit 523,000, a rise of 174 percent year on year, thanks to the mainland’s efforts to make it more convenient to travel across the Straits, he said.

Mainland authorities began allowing individuals to travel to Taiwan in June, 2011, with access only permitted from Beijing and Shanghai municipalities as well as Xiamen City in Fujian Province. However, the current number of cities allowing such tourism is 26.

In 2013, 47 travel agencies also obtained the qualification to organize group package tours to Taiwan, increasing the total number of such agencies to 263, Ma said.

To facilitate personnel exchanges, the Chinese mainland has expanded its urban residents’ health insurance to cover Taiwan students studying at mainland universities. The government also supports Taiwanese who have graduated from mainland universities to start businesses, according to the spokesman.

A lot of big events took place last year across the Strait, including the first Cross-Straits Peace Forum, the ninth Cross-Straits Economic, Trade and Culture Forum and the sixth Cross-Strait Cultural Industry Fair.

Ma said the two sides will cooperate to reach agreements on exchanges of culture, education as well as science and technology.
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