The direct trade and transport links between the Kinmen and Xiamen City are becoming more and more popular, evidenced in the record number of passengers who used the service to travel between Taiwan and China last year, according to government tallies.
Statistics compiled by the Bureau of Immigration under the National Police Administration (NPA) show that a total of 404,363 people -- 203,164 outbound and 201,199 inbound -- sailed between the two sides last year, a more than 1.5-fold growth compared to the 2003 level of 160,103.
In 2002, a total of 53,681 travelers made voyages via the links, up from 21,377 in 2001. The "three small links" were initiated on the first of that year to compensate for the lack of such links between Taiwan proper and China due to political rifts between the two sides.
Bureau officials on Kinmen attributed the increase to various government policy openings that have allowed a broader range of people to travel via the links.
The establishment of the links was first aimed at facilitating homebound trips for Taiwan businessmen based in Fujian, and the links were made available to other Taiwan businessmen operating farther afield than Fujian in March last year, they said.
The links were also opened to Taiwan residents with household registration on Kinmen of over six months and to family members of retired serviceman and Taiwan citizens' spouses from Fujian, they said, adding that more than 70 percent of the "small links" passengers are Taiwanese businessmen.
The Fujian authorities' decision late last month to permit Fujian residents to travel to Kinmen and Matsu islands via the links for tourism provided a fresh boost.