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Direct links to China will start on Jan 1, says Taipei

By Goh Sui Noi, The Straits Times, 13 December 2000

The government has made plans for direct trade, transport and postal links between the islands of Kinmen and Matsu and the province of Fujian

TAIPEI - Taiwan gave an assurance yesterday that direct links between its offshore islands and China would be launched on Jan 1 as scheduled amid doubts among many Taiwanese.

Ms Tsai Ing-wen, chairman of the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters that the government had made the necessary preparations for direct trade, transport and postal links between the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu and the Chinese coastal province of Fujian.

The local media had expressed doubts over whether the links would be set up on time as preparations had fallen behind schedule.

For example, the deadline for Customs, quarantine and immigration facilities to be ready has been pushed back from Friday to Dec 25.

Another problem was that the Chinese authorities had not made reciprocal measures.

China has insisted that any resumption of direct links between the two sides must be made under the framework of the 'one China' principle, which Taiwan has refused to acknowledge.

Taiwan banned direct links in trade, transport and post with China in 1949, after the communists took over the mainland and the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan.

Restoring direct links, known as the 'mini three links', between the offshore islands and Fujian province was meant to be a goodwill gesture towards China.

However, with Beijing cool to the idea, the whole exercise has been described as a 'one- sided love affair' by commentators.

Indeed, direct transport links would be limited to Taiwanese boats as Taiwan will not allow Chinese boats bearing the People's Republic of China flag to enter the islands' ports without prior negotiation between the two sides.

Chinese wanting to come over to the islands would travel on Taiwanese boats.

At present, only Chinese from Fujian province can come over to the islands for sightseeing, business or to visit relatives and only for two to seven days at a time. Only 700 people a day can travel to Kinmen and 100 a day to Matsu.

They can apply for travel to the islands through Taiwanese travel agencies or their relatives living on the islands. To prevent overstaying by the Chinese, a detention centre will be set up to deal with overstayers.

Ms Tsai said initial links would be limited to small-volume trade and decriminalisation of illegal trading activities between the islanders and the Chinese.

Only after their impact on the islands' public safety and economy had been evaluated would the council consider expanding the links.

Initial restrictions include a ban on redirecting Chinese goods from the islands to the main island of Taiwan and limiting trade to fulfilling the islanders' basic needs.

The Economics Affairs Ministry and Agriculture Council are preparing lists of approved goods.