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More help for people from island to travel, work and start enterprises
Even though only a few customers go to Xiao Huang-biao's food stand each day, the Taiwan native does not regret coming to the Chinese mainland to seek his fortune.
Xiao, 52, arrived on the mainland from his hometown of Kaohsiung five years ago. In 2012, he opened a snack stand selling southern Taiwan food in Pingtan county, Fujian province, where his wife comes from.
Xiao Huang-biao, a Taiwan native, explains to a customer how some snacks are made at his food stand on the fifth floor of a shopping mall in Pingtan county, Fujian province. AN BAIJIE / CHINA DAILY
His idea of opening the snack stand stems from an advertisement he saw at a hotel in Pingtan in which the local government promised to introduce policies to support and encourage Taiwan people to set up businesses in the county.
Pingtan county is the nearest place on the mainland to Taiwan, being just 68 nautical miles from Taiwan's city of Hsinchu. It takes only two and a half hours to travel from the county to Taichung in Taiwan since the cross-Straits route opened in late 2011.
In November that year, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved a plan to establish a comprehensive experimental area in Pingtan. Under the plan, the central government would channel funds into the county to attract Taiwan investment and create a "paradise" for both Taiwan and local people to live in.
Xiao said he benefited from some policies when he started the business. For example, he did not have to pay rent for his 10-square-meter food stand — apart from an initial 10,000 yuan ($1,600) fee.
About 20 percent of his sales income goes to government taxes, which he said is acceptable.
Xiao said he also appreciates efforts made by the local government, because some officials usually lead tourist groups to eat at his snack stand, which is on the fifth floor of a shopping mall in a sightseeing street.
Most of the food he serves comes from Kaohsiung to ensure genuine flavor, but that has raised the cost, he said.
Xiao said the monthly sales income is about 10,000 yuan at most — the sole income for his family of three.
Even though the number of customers eating at his snack stand is not as many as he expected, Xiao remains optimistic about his business.
He said the potential market on the mainland is more than in Taiwan, where natural and human resources are limited.
He said Pingtan county is undergoing massive infrastructure construction, so it was natural that tourist numbers would decline. "But I believe the situation will be better in several years."
Zhang Zhijun, newly appointed minister of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Friday that mainland authorities will announce more policies to make it more convenient for Taiwan people to travel, work and start businesses on the mainland.
"We will do more practical things and good things for the Taiwan compatriots," he said, adding that non-governmental exchanges will be stepped up.
Ties between the mainland and Taiwan have been boosted in recent years, with cross-Straits trade reaching a record high of $168.96 billion last year, according to the Taiwan Affairs Office.
Nearly 69,000 mainland tourists visited Taiwan during the Spring Festival holiday in early February, about 30 percent more than last year, China News Service reported.
More efforts needed
Gong Qinggai, director of the administration committee of the Pingtan Comprehensive Experimental Area, said the government invested 100 billion yuan from 2010 to 2012 to improve the region's infrastructure.
It will invest another 50 billion yuan this year for infrastructure work, including road and bridge construction, Gong said.
Another sea route between the mainland and Taiwan will be opened this year, with the destination being Taipei, the island's political center, he added.
Gong said the local government is encouraging the development of seven industries, including the high-technology, service, tourism and marine sectors.
It had attracted 93 Taiwan companies to invest in Pingtan as of late January to the tune of $186 million, according to the county government.
But for Xiao, the food stand owner, the government's efforts are not so tangible.
"I dare not go to far-away places because there are few buses here, and the buses are always delayed for unknown reasons," he said.
He used to be charged 8 yuan by the driver of a local "black taxi" — an unlicensed motorcycle taxi — but later learned from his wife the fare should have been 5 yuan at the most.
"If you talk to the taxi driver in a local accent, you will be charged a fair price, otherwise you will be charged more," he said.
He had planned to buy an electric bicycle, but abandoned the idea because he is unclear about local traffic rules.
Feng Ting-kuo, a politician with Taiwan's People First Party, said mainland authorities should provide better social services to attract Taiwan investors.
"I have been to Pingtan seven times, but I couldn't watch any Taiwan TV programs here," he said during a cross-Straits symposium in Pingtan on Friday.
"We vowed to jointly build a home for both mainland and Taiwan people, so tell me why I can't receive my hometown's TV programs when I am at this home?" he said.
Insufficient social services will deter Taiwan people from investing or living on the mainland, he said.
Gong, the local official, said the government will continue to improve the investment environment and make life more convenient for investors.
Yan Anlin, a researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said economic relations have become the most active area of cross-Straits ties, while there is still insufficient political dialogue.
"The political issue has impeded further cross-Straits communication," he said. "Political dialogue should be started as soon as possible."
But Xiao said he knows nothing about politics and only wants to see more people coming to eat at his food stand.
He said cross-Straits ties have been continuously boosted in recent years, and he is sure they will improve.