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Taking kinks out of Straits links
( 2003-10-31 09:41) (China Daily)

There has been a steady increase of non-governmental exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, with both sides calling for comprehensive direct transportation links across the Straits.

"Over 4,490 Taiwanese came to Fujian Province on direct voyages from Taiwan's outlying islands of Jinmen and Mazu to Fujian Province's cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou between October 1 and 7, mostly for sightseeing," said Zhang Guangmin, director of the province's Taiwan affairs office.

Unlike those who come to Fujian via direct sea links, the majority of Taiwanese visiting the mainland, a total of nearly 3 million in 2002, have no alternative but to go through ports such as Hong Kong and Macao and even the Japanese port of Ishigaki, said Zhang, in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

Aware of the lack of direct cross-Straits transport links that block further development of Taiwan island, local Taiwanese are urging the Taiwan authorities to take practical measures to implement comprehensive direct cross-Straits links.

"Jinmen County Magistrate Lee Chu-feng has repeatedly urged the Taiwan authorities to establish an offshore processing zone in Jinmen so that Taiwanese companies can hire nearby Xiamen workers and benefit from the lower labour costs," said Zhang.

"The launch of an offshore processing zone would actually contribute to the building of a Jinmen economic zone, which would promote the opening of Jinmen to the mainland," said Zhang.

"But Lee's proposal got no response from the Taiwan authorities," added Zhang.

To meet demands of people on both sides of the Straits, with the approval of the Ministry of Communications and the Taiwan Affairs Office, on July 16 Fujian resumed cargo and passenger ship service with Jinmen and Mazu, suspended due to the SARS outbreak in the spring.

From that time until August 31, 24,148 passengers on 268 voyages commuted across the Straits with each ship carrying double the number of passengers prior to the suspension of service because of SARS.

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