Renewed talk of building a bridge to connect Kinmen Island with China’s port city of Xiamen has put the sparsely populated island county in the spotlight as it fights to promote a project that seems to have little if any support from the central government or the opposition.
Local media reported on Thursday that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had given the order to start the project, but Presidential Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) clarified that Ma had simply asked about the progress of a feasibility assessment on building the bridge.
A Cabinet spokesman later said there was no timetable to complete the feasibility study, a clear indication the government is in no rush to move forward on the ambitious project.
The Democratic Progressive Party opposes the idea, branding it as a step toward unification with China. Even Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators worry the bridge’s construction would divert local taxpayer funds to help China develop Xiamen.
Yet Kinmen residents want their island, a former front line against China, to be transformed into a new frontier for peace by building a road link to China.
Support for the project, called the Jindeng Bridge (金嶝大橋), is especially strong among those over 60 who experienced the month-long artillery bombardment of the island by the Chinese army in 1958 that killed more than 600 servicemen and civilians and injured more than 2,600.
Most of those now dream of “driving a car from Kinmen to Xiamen in a day,” said Yen Chung-cheng (顏忠誠), a Kinmen native who once served as a vice commander-in-chief of the Republic of China Army.
During his stint as Taiwan’s Fujian governor, a now-defunct position once responsible for Kinmen and Matsu, Yen listed the building of a bridge connecting Kinmen and Xiamen as one of the three major “projects of hope” in the region.
A public opinion poll conducted by the National Kinmen Institute of Technology in April 2007 found building a bridge to Xiamen was the issue of second-greatest concern to the county’s residents, trailing only the need for improved health and emergency care.
The 83.9 percent of respondents who felt it was an important issue believed it was necessary to cement ties with China, around which many of the lives of the 50,000 people who reside in Kinmen revolve.
Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽) is firmly behind the project, saying Kinmen has served as a bridge connecting the two sides of the Taiwan Strait since direct ferry services to Xiamen and other Chinese ports were launched in early 2001.
“The building of the Jindeng Bridge will not only help hone Taiwan’s bridge building technologies, it will also help boost development in Kinmen itself,” Lee said. “The Jindeng Bridge will facilitate the building of water pipes and electricity transmission cables between Kinmen and Xiamen, allowing Kinmen to import fresh water and electricity from China — moves that would also manifest Taiwan’s sincerity in pursuing peace and co-prosperity with China.”
The Kinmen County Government said 974,000 people traveled between Kinmen and Xiamen last year, up from the 21,000 who used the ferry service in its inaugural year, an indication, it says, of the county’s crucial role as a gateway to China.
Yet that role has been threatened since direct air and sea links were opened between Taiwan and China last December, prompting Kinmen residents to seek further breakthroughs in its ties with China, particularly Xiamen, Kinmen County Council Speaker Hsieh Yi-chang (謝宜璋) said.