China / HK Macao Taiwan

Building a future on mutual understanding

By He Na and Hu Meidong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-03 08:15

Building a future on mutual understanding
The manager of a tea company from Taiwan serves visitors to the Eighth Cross-Straits Tea Expo in Wuyishan, Fujian province, in November 2014. The expo attracted more than 600 enterprises from China and overseas, including more than 100 businesses from Taiwan. Zhang Guojun / Xinhua

The relationship between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan has been improving steadily for six decades, but negotiations have often been long and arduous, as He Na and Hu Meidong report from Fuzhou, Fujian province

Although a mere 2,500 people live in Zhongchuan, a village in Longyan, Fujian province, is proud to be the ancestral home of more than 15,000 overseas Chinese.

Moreover, as Xiamen's ports have become some of the best-known points of departure from the Chinese mainland, Zhongchuan has become famous as a "talent nursery" that has sent politicians, entrepreneurs and artists to a large number of countries and regions - especially Taiwan, just 316 kilometers away.

'Balloon link'

The people of Zhongchuan have witnessed many changes in cross-Straits relations over the past six decades.

"When I was young, one of my favorite things was picking up candy, biscuits, pencils and colorful pamphlets that fell from balloons that floated across the Taiwan Straits before exploding and releasing their contents," Hu Meihua, a Zhongchuan native, said.

The 50-something entrepreneur said the pamphlets contained color photos depicting the comfortable lives of Taiwan residents and the exotic foods they enjoyed, plus portraits of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Kuomintang.

"Those photos impressed me a lot as a child, and I vowed to visit Taiwan when I grew up," Hu said, recalling the "Balloon Link" propaganda campaign that started more than four decades ago and was designed to cast doubts in the minds of mainland residents.

Hard-won progress

Although the campaign's effect was limited, the pamphlets were the only impression many coastal people, especially children, had of Taiwan.

Recent years have seen improvements and developments in cross-Straits relations. Data from the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office show that more than 9.4 million people traveled between the mainland and Taiwan last year, and there were 840 scheduled cross-Straits passenger flights every week.

The trend has continued this year, and on Oct 1, the number of scheduled weekly flights rose to 890.

The developments have been reflected by the closer trade relations on both sides of the Straits.

More than 93,000 businesses in Taiwan have invested in the mainland, while reciprocal investment, which Taiwan only allowed in 2009, has also grown.

Now, residents of 47 mainland cities are allowed to visit Taiwan as individual tourists, and on Sept 21, the daily cap on the number of visitors from the mainland was raised to 5,000 from 4,000, according to the Taiwan Tourist board.

The improvements in relations allowed Hu to realize her childhood dream of visiting the island - she has been five times - and almost all her close relatives have also spent time there.

The increasing frequency of exchanges and the improvements in cross-Straits relations have only been achieved through hard work, and sometimes years of negotiations have been required to advance by just a single step.

Cross-Straits relations stalled in 1949, when the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated to Taiwan and entered three decades of isolation.

The ice thawed a little in 1979, when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress issued a statement outlining Beijing's position regarding the peaceful settlement of the "Taiwan question".

In 1981, Ye Jianying, chairman of the Standing Committee, became the first leading mainland figure to publicly refer to cross-Straits tensions. He issued a statement elaborating on the mainland's policy and principles for the settlement of the "Taiwan question", and floated the idea of links on issues such as mail, transportation and trade.

However, it wasn't until 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's "president", that cross-Straits relations began to show genuine signs of improvement. Dozens of agreements of cooperation were signed and mail, transportation and trade links were finally established.

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