The relationships between mainland China and Hong Kong and between mainland China and Taiwan are both very complicated, to say the least. Before we get any further into this discussion, we want to apologize up front for any missteps we might make in attempting to explain the complex situation at hand. (Yes, it’s that complicated.)
Let’s start with Hong Kong and China. In some ways, Hong Kong and China are one and the same. Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997. At that time, Britain transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong to China. However, Hong Kong felt very much like an independent state at the time, and many of the people were reluctant to fall under Chinese authority.
Currently, Hong Kong maintains total control of its internal affairs and external relations. However, China controls Hong Kong’s foreign affairs and it defense.
If you wish to travel to Hong Kong, one of the upsides of this set up is that you can go to Hong Kong for up to 90 days as a tourist without any need for a tourist visa. Of course, travel to China — meaning mainland China — currently requires a visa.
Taiwan is a bit of a stickier situation. Taiwan has its own president, and many people who live there consider Taiwan to be its own country. However, China is insistent that Taiwan is a part of China and always will be.There has been calm between Taiwan and mainland China for the last seven years, but things have been quite tense lately with the recent election of a new president, Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai is part of the Democratic Progressive party in Taiwan, which leans toward independence. She is currently facing pressure from mainland China to show her support for one China. So far, she has said that she will maintain peace with China and has pledged to maintain the “status quo.”
As for travel to Taiwan, US citizens can visit the country as tourists for up to 90 days without a visa.
Taiwan and Hong Kong are in the same boat in a lot of ways. People who live in one place or the other closely watch the relationship between that place and mainland China. The saying goes, first Hong Kong, then Taiwan, or vice versa. In other words, people in each location feel that whatever goes wrong or right in the other local will trickle down to them.
Travel as a tourist is pretty common between Hong Kong and Taiwan. If you’re traveling from the US, you can certainly visit both places in the same trip and have a wonderful vacation. That’s probably the best way to get a full sense of the situation each of these places faces with mainland China. Travel is the best education, which is just one of the many reasons that we love it so much.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.