BEIJING - China stepped up pressure on Taiwan on Wednesday as it announced the suspension of individual travel permits to the self-ruled democratic island "due to current cross-strait relations".
A program had allowed Chinese citizens in 47 mainland cities to apply for permits to visit Taiwan on their own instead of visiting on group tours.
But the tourism ministry said in a brief statement that their issuance would be suspended from Thursday "due to current cross-strait relations" -- a move that could hurt the island's economy.
Relations between Communist-ruled Beijing and Taipei have plummeted since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016 because her party refuses to recognize the idea that Taiwan is part of "one China".
As punishment, Beijing has cut official communications, ramped up military exercises, poached diplomatic allies and ratcheted up economic pressure on the island.
The latest move comes as Taiwan prepares to hold its presidential election in January.
Beijing-friendly candidate Han Kuo-yu of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party is looking to unseat Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a contest that will be dominated by relations with China.
Taiwan has been a de facto sovereign nation since the end of a civil war in 1949, but China still views the island as its territory and has vowed to seize it -- by force if necessary.
Han, 62, said in a speech on Sunday that the election would be a choice between "peace or crisis" with China.
Tsai, also 62, has described the 2020 presidential election as a "fight for freedom and democracy", setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.