Part of a port dedicated to military use in Fujian province, on the western side of the Taiwan Straits, could be up for conversion to economic development.
Zhang Xiong, a Ningde port authority official, told China Daily that the city government "has made a verbal contract" with the navy, and that it may pull out from part of the Sandu'ao harbor region, including Sandu island.
A regimental naval officer surnamed Chen said: "The several regiments stationed on Sandu island now may pull out. We are waiting for the final order."
It was announced in June that an economic zone would be built on the west side of the Taiwan Straits and that Sandu'ao harbor in Ningde, Fuzhou harbor, Xiamen harbor and Meizhou bay harbor would be selected for priority development by Fujian province.
"It's finally our turn," said Chen Guangmin, vice-chairman of the tourism association of Ningde city.
"We have the best harbor in the nation, or even in the world, but we have come last in Fujian's GDP ranking list for many years," he said.
China National Offshore Oil Corp and the Fujian provincial government signed a contract yesterday to invest 23 billion yuan ($3.4 billion) in the Sandu'ao region and build an industrial park, including an oil reserves base, near the harbor.
"Thanks to warmer cross-Straits ties, I don't think we need as much military force here as before," Chen Guangmin said.
Zhang said the government was negotiating with the navy to establish clear boundaries.
"They will keep some areas closed, and we will develop the remaining," he said.
Situated 145 km from Taiwan's Kee Lung harbor, and located on main arteries of many international services, Sandu'ao has a special advantage for future development, said Pan Xiaojin, vice-director of Ningde's harbor bureau.
In the first five months of this year, direct shipping carried nearly 1 million tons of goods from Ningde to Taiwan.
Dr Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Kuomintang, described Sandu'ao harbor as "the deepest ice-free harbor in the world". It used to be Fujian's center of trade and culture and also home to businesses from a dozen nations.
Before 1993, this region was used mainly for military purposes and foreign ships were not allowed to enter.
The mainland opened 7.5 km coastline in that region in 1993, and approved a larger area for development in 2005, but the open area was still mainly used for fish farming.
Last August, Fujian province approved a development plan for Sandu'ao harbor created by Ningde city government. Massive construction began in February.
The plan includes more than 3 billion yuan in investment, and two 100,000 ton-grade berth docks to be built before next year. Another two 200,000 ton-grade berth docks will be completed before 2012.