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Sat, Jan 19, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Travel restrictions relaxed

STAFF WRITER , WITH AGENCIES

Opposition lawmakers succeeded late Thursday in pushing through an amendment allowing limited numbers of visitors from Taiwan to enter China directly via offshore islands.

Currently, only residents of the islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu are permitted to sail directly to two selected ports in China's Fujian Province.

In a last-ditch effort to pass legislation before the end of the current session, which ended yesterday, legislators enacted an amendment to the existing Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例), allowing Taiwan residents to directly travel to China via the three outlying islands.

The amendment is to expand the "small three links (小三通)," which were coolly received by China since their opening last year.

The government initiated the policy allowing direct trade, postal and shipping transport between Kinmen and Matsu and Fuzhou and Xiamen ports in China's Fujian province on Jan. 2, 2001.

KMT legislator Tsao Er-chung (曹爾忠) yesterday thanked the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) for relaxing the policy which paved the way for lawmakers to approve it.

Tsao said that expanding the "small three links" will not only make it more convenient for Taiwanese to travel to the China, it will also help accelerate economic prosperity for residents on the three islands.

Kinmen Magistrate Lee Chu-feng (李炷峰) estimated that after the expansion amendment takes effect, at least 2 to 3 million people from Taiwan are expected to travel to China every year via Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu.

Lee said that the new policy will not only help save immeasurable amounts of money that would be spent on transit trips via a "third place," such as Hong Kong or Macau, it would also help increase the competitiveness of Taiwanese businesspeople operating across the Strait, as well as help boost the economies of the outlying islands.

In response to the amendment, Chen Ming-tung (陳明通), MAC vice chairman, stressed that travel permission would only be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The MAC is reluctant to open direct travel via the offshore islands despite strong calls from local businesses and the tourism sector to cut costs and save time.

"Any relaxation has to be made in consideration of overall planning involving cross-strait relations, national security and transportation infrastructure on those islands," Chen said.

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