Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Kinmen rife with opportunities

OPENING UP The government's decision to relax restrictions on tourists from China's Fujian Province will spur economic growth and have an influence on cross-strait ties


For years now, Kinmen County has been talking about building a bridge to the southern Chinese province of Fujian. Last week, the topic was brought up again, but to no avail. It is, like all other cross-strait projects, mired in political conflict.

While the bridge, dubbed the "Kinmen peace bridge," is unlikely to materialize in the near future, it is at the very least an indication of Kinmen's particular role in cross-strait relations. Situated between Taiwan and China, Kinmen is just 2km off the southeastern coast of Fujian; while 280km of the Taiwan Strait separates it from Taiwan.

Even today, Beijing views Kinmen and Matsu as nominally a part of Fujian Province, whereas the rest of the nation is considered to be Taiwan Province. In fact, Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽) said last week that if the government insisted on Taiwanese independence, a "one country two systems" arrangement with Taiwan could be appropriate for Kinmen.

Kinmen is literally and symbolically a bridge between Taiwan and China. It was the experimental grounds upon which the "small three links" was given its trial run, and is likely to be the site of two new cross-strait initiatives in the next few months -- Chinese tourism and currency exchange. Chinese tourism in Taiwan has been allowed under limited conditions in the past, but Chinese currency exchange has never been offered before at local banks.

Previously, only Chinese tourists who resided or studied abroad or who arrived in Taiwan from a third country could visit the nation on a tourist visa. However, the new tourism policies slated to kick in next month -- applicable only off Kinmen and Matsu -- will allow Fujianese tourists to come directly to Taiwan's offshore islands for three-day tours.

While the policies have yet to be implemented, it is said that tourists from Fujian will start arriving in Kinmen and Matsu by early next month. In fact, five travel agencies in Kinmen have already been designated by Chinese tourism authorities to show Chinese tourists local attractions.

One of the agencies, Safety Travel, has already posted application procedures and tourism itineraries online in anticipation of increased business.

"We think that the number of Chinese tourists could increase to 100 a day, which is quite scary." said Safety Travel manager Lee Chun-lung (李俊龍).

"It's a lot more than what we're seeing now. We've already begun hiring new employees to help out."

"Before the new tourism policy, we had maybe one or two groups a month if we were lucky, and the paperwork was always very complicated. The number of groups we'd get each month was never consistent either," Lee said.

Kinmen County Department of Tourism head Chen Chao-chin (陳朝金) was also optimistic about newly lifted travel bans.

"It's been 50 years coming. I'm sure there are many, many people in Fujian who would like to see Kinmen," Chen said. "The tourism will bring about a chain reaction in consumption. With tourism, you will need tour buses, which means you will need oil, which means you will need a driver, and so on and so forth," he told the Taipei Times.

He explained that over the past half year, several investors had visited Kinmen in anticipation of possible business opportunities. He said once Chinese tourism kicks in, investment in hotels and other tourism facilities is also likely to increase.

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