The great-crested grebes are flocking to Kinmen. Rarely seen in other parts of Taiwan, they fly to the nation's westernmost archipelago from central and northern China to enjoy the islands' drier, more temperate winter climate. Together with great cormorants and lesser-pied kingfishers, they come in the thousands.
While the residents of Kinmen are happy to host their yearly visitors, they've lately been pining to be paid a visit by a different species of guest from China: the tourist.
Unfortunately, the windfall of Chinese visitors originally expected from the opening of postal, transport and travel links with China's Fujian province has failed to materialize.
Politicians point to problems in policy that have hobbled the development of the island's tourism industry, but local business leaders say economic factors are also to blame.
Although Taiwan opened its doors to visitors from the mainland via the "three small links" in January 2001, the government in Beijing did not allow its citizens to take advantage of the travel links until September last year, when Fujian Province Deputy Governor Wang Meixiang (
Previously, only politicians and businessmen were allowed to travel to Taiwan's Kinmen and Matsu islands to facilitate the part of the three links China was taking full advantage of, the transport of Chinese goods to the islands.
Over 15,000 port calls have been made in Kinmen and Matsu since 2001, with 55 percent being Chinese cargo ships. Of the 2.3 million tonnes of products handled at Kinmen's Shuitou Port since 2001, 2.2 million were imports from China.
The remaining 1 percent was mostly Kinmen's famous Kaoliang liquor being shipped to the Chinese ports of Mawei and Xiamen, the latter of which is a mere 2km from Kinmen.
Of the 951,000 passengers who have made the journey between the two nations, 94 percent were China-bound Taiwanese. Residents of Kinmen and Matzu have bought some 4,000 houses in Xiamen and spent nearly NT$3 billion.
"The opening of these transportation and travel links were supposed to be a boon for our businesses," said Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng
"A year ago our township heads were clamoring to attract hotel and resort developers. When the first group of mainland tourists came in December of last year we met them at the airport with banners and flowers. And since then, only 2,000 have come. There were 10 million people from all parts of China that visited Xiamen last year and only 2,000 of them made the half-hour boat ride to Kinmen."
Instead, Lee and others said, the three small links have been a boon for Taiwanese businessmen who operate in China. Since 2001, Kinmen's population has grown from 50,000 to 60,000. The influx is due to Taiwanese businessmen who have switched their household registrations from Taiwan proper to Kinmen in order to take advantage of travel links.
An alternative route
After having been registered for six months, new residents can apply for a permit that allows them to board boats bound for Fujian Province. On the other side, they are issued five-year permits allowing them to board boats to return to Kinmen, where they can fly inexpensively to their actual homes on Taiwan proper.
"With my factory located in Fujian, it's cheaper for me to travel via Xiamen and Kinmen than to have to go through Hong Kong," said Wu Ching-chung (