Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China's silence concerns residents

Fantasies are always beautiful, but they must undergo a cruel reality check once they come true. After serving as Taiwan's anti-communist fortresses for five decades, the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu have become the vanguard of cross-strait interaction after the launch of the "small three links" yesterday. From now on, the residents of Kinmen and Matsu will be facing the reality test of interacting with the mainland.

The residents of Kinmen and Matsu have long asked for the opening of the small three links in the hope that the links would bring them cheap daily necessities from China, as well as commercial profits from export transshipments and the incoming wave of visitors. They have also hoped it would end the potential for military confrontation.

However, now that the small three links have become a reality, the residents are beginning to have their doubts. They are now worried that their islands will become even more dependent economically on the mainland cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou, that human and animal diseases from China may spread to their home towns and perhaps even to Taiwan proper, and that the gap in living standards may create an incentive for mainland criminals to swarm to the islands, causing a deterioration in public security there.

On Monday, the captain of the yacht Peaceful Sea (海安號) cited high waves and strong winds as the reason for the cancellation of what would have been the first legal direct crossing between Kinmen and the mainland coast. But the Kinmen and Matsu residents know deep down that the cancellation was the result of a political tussle between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office deliberately delayed the launch date by one day to January 2 to put a face-saving end to the deadlock over the small three links. After having refused all along to negotiate with Taiwan on the small three links, Beijing did not want to appear to categorically accept Taiwan's initiative. Now, the cross-strait political wrestle over the small three links have triggered fears among Kinmen and Matsu residents that they may have one more nasty old hag ordering them around.

Beijing's refusal to negotiate on the small three links has left Taiwan to stage a lonely show, very much limited to decriminalization of rampant smuggling across the seas of Kinmen and Matsu. Even though the Taiwan government's plan for the small three links is comprehensive enough to cover travel, transportation, currency exchange and trade, most of these areas will remain effectively closed until the two sides sit down and talk over the details. In this sense, the small three links are still effectively closed in so far as their functions remain incomplete. The Kinmen and Matsu residents are fidgety about being made the guinea pigs of a cross-strait experiment and unhappy about the limitations facing the small three links. But they all know that Beijing -- not Taiwan -- is the real stumbling block to the links. They should blame Beijing for their dissatisfactions.

Predictably, the Kinmen and Matsu residents may not reap all the benefits they expect from the small three links, but unforeseen adverse effects of the links are bound to surface soon. The pros and cons of the small three links will then become a basis for policy readjustments to minimize the negative impacts of the upcoming "big three links."

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