Sat, Feb 10, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Kinmen has a crucial role to play

By Chou Cheng-lai 周成來

It has been more than a month since the "small three links" were launched. China's ambiguous attitude has made many wish to jump on the band wagon sigh in disappointment while gazing at the sea. In particular, for the lunar new year, people from Kinmen who live in China still had to travel via Hong Kong or Macau to Taipei and then wait for vacancies on flights from Taipei to Kinmen.

But it appears that "the links" have not been really open. All attempts to decriminalize smuggling -- the minimum goal set by Taipei -- seem to have become futile as well. In fact, small-scale illegal trade is becoming even more rampant than before. Most fishermen from Xiamen will not be able to take part in the model of trade formulated by Taipei, even if Beijing does not object to it. The fishermen can only continue to peddle their goods as street vendors on Kinmen streets.

Because of the continuing gap between the two sides in terms of incomes and the prices of goods, and the reconciliatory atmosphere built up by the small three links, more and more peddlars are coming from China. The rush is quickly turning what used to be a seller's market into a buyer's market. The business order in Kinmen is becoming more and more chaotic, with disputes of varying sizes breaking out from time to time. Some Chinese peddlars shout at and try to provoke coast guard personnel, while others get into brawls in the fight for business, sometimes even killing their rivals.

Such episodes are a glaring contrast to the opening of the small three links. The 190-plus Kinmen residents who joined the first direct sailing to Xiamen have kept praising the city, which had been separated from Kinmen for 52 years. They said Kinmen is at least 40 years behind Xiamen when it comes to development.

But a larger number of Kinmen residents who did not join the direct sailing are witnessing -- at a much closer range along the beaches near their homes -- the dire conditions and brutality of the Chinese. So many people are taking many risks in order to sail boats to Kinmen for the sake of measly profits and a livelihood.

Apart from sympathy for those struggling to make a living, Kinmen residents are also beginning to have doubts and fears -- especially those over 60 or 70. They have opposed the small three links from the outset, due to their past experience of violence and looting coming from the other shore. Today, despite the extensive exchanges, the pernicious deeds of some Chinese along the coastline are bringing anxiety.

With Taiwan's economy remaining sluggish -- and with no other good prospects in sight for Kinmen -- most of the residents take the small three links as a panacea for the islands, even though they do not quite trust China and the links may have an impact on public security. Those obsessed with the notion of a "Greater China" have pinned their hopes for the future on China. The small three links, which have been late in coming, have eventually enabled them to properly embrace the idea of a Greater China.

No matter how Kinmen residents regard the opening of the small three links, their launch has certainly changed Kinmen's role and value in cross-strait relations. The "Kinmen frontline" has been quietly replaced by the "Penghu frontline" as Kinmen's symbolic value as a potential battleground dies away.

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