The China Post staff
Taiwan’s offshore island county of Penghu will open direct shipping links with four ports in mainland China’s southeastern province of Fujian, Penghu County Commissioner Lai Feng-wei announced yesterday. Lai made the announcement after his return from a visit to Fujian province, which lies opposite Taiwan. He was the first local government chief to be formally allowed to visit mainland China. Lai left for Fujian on June 28 at the head of a delegation of Penghu County Government officials and returned to Penghu yesterday. “The visit was aimed at examining facilities at Fujian’s four major ports — Fuzhou City’s Mawei port, Quanzhou City’s Houzhu port, Xiamen Port and Zhangzhou City’s Dongshan port,” Lai said, adding that his mission also studied Fujian’s infrastructure construction projects, environmental protection policies, public health services and street beautification measures during the visit. Lai also said he discussed with relevant mainland officials issues related to the opening of direct shipping links between Penghu and Fujian’s four major ports. Lai said Fujian officials in charge of Taiwan affairs generally welcomed the opening of direct shipping services between Penghu and Fujian. In the initial stage, Lai said, direct shipping services may only be offered for the purpose of religious exchanges. “In the second stage, we’ll seek central government approval of direct shipping links between Penghu and Fujian for the transportation of cargo and tourists,” he added. A delegation from Quanzhou’s oldest Matsu Temple is scheduled to make a direct voyage from Houzhu port to Penghu on July 26 for a goodwill visit. The delegation will escort an icon of Matsu — the Chinese goddess of the sea — to Penghu, an island group located some 50 nautical miles off Taiwan’s southwestern coast. A group of Penghu residents will accompany the Matsu icon and the Quanzhou delegation back to the mainland on Aug. 5 via direct sailing from Penghu, Lai added. Noting that Penghu will play an important role in future cross-strait religious exchanges, Lai said he will seek mainland Chinese cooperation to make Penghu a major midpoint for cross-strait cargo and passenger transportation before full normalization of cross-strait relations. Taiwan opened its two frontline defense outposts of Kinmen and Matsu to direct shipping links with Fujian’s Xiamen and Mawei in January 2001 as part of its efforts to forge cross-strait rapprochement and help boost the economic development of two offshore islands. Due to Beijing’s lukewarm response, the direct shipping links have not lived up to its original expectations. The Mainland Affairs Council recently agreed to open Penghu for direct shipping links with the mainland to help promote the island county’s economic development. It remains to be seen whether opening direct shipping links can truly bring economic benefits to Penghu, local political observers said.