A boat from the Taiwanese island fortress of Kinmen and another from the islet of Matsu arrived in China today, making the first legal direct crossings from Taiwan in more than 50 years.
Two dozen uniformed police officers and officials greeted the Kinmen boat as it arrived a few minutes before noon carrying 190 Taiwanese officials and community leaders. Some passengers waved and about 200 Chinese spectators gathered near the pier to watch as the vessel arrived quietly under sunny skies.
The ship from Matsu, just off China’s southeastern coast, arrived almost simultaneously in another Chinese port, Taiwanese media reported from the vessel.
The ships were the first to cross legally from outlying Taiwanese islands since Taiwan and China separated in a bloody civil war that ended in 1949.
First Attempt Turned Back
Taiwan relaxed a ban on travel between the two islands and China on New Year’s Day. But a Taiwanese tourist boat on what was to be the first crossing Monday was forced to turn back by bad weather and high seas.
Many Taiwanese hope that the relaxing of travel restrictions from the two islands will ease tensions with China.
A large crowd celebrated and a high school band dressed in blue, green and red satin costumes banged gongs and drums, and did traditional dragon dances, as the Tai Wu left Kinmen for the Chinese mainland. The vessel is named after the tallest mountain in Xiamen, where it docked.
“This is such an unimaginable event, and we’re extremely exited,” Gung Cheng-mao, 53, a businessman, said in Kinmen. He recalled that China had once bombed his island almost every day in the 1950s and that one shell had crashed through his family’s home. The boat’s voyage from Kinmen represents a great, historical change for the better, he said.
Chen Shui-tsai, the Kinmen county commissioner leading the delegation aboard the Tai Wu, told reporters that in the future his island should be used as the location for the first-ever summit by the leaders of China and Taiwan to end their long-standing differences.
“We don’t think this event today is just about Kinmen,” he said. “It’s a huge event for the whole country.”
Horse of the Sea
On Matsu, just off the coast of China, more than 500 residents boarded a ship for the Chinese port of Fuzhou. Government officials waved from the harbor as the ship Taima, which means Taiwanese horse, steamed away. Passengers aboard the vessel were worshippers of the goddess Matsu, the patron of fishermen popular in Taiwan and southeastern China.
Matsu and Kinmen are the only parts of Taiwan that are opening the direct trading and shipping links with China.
Taiwan opened the links between its two small islands and China without talking to Beijing, which has grudgingly accepted the move but hasn’t said how much it will cooperate. So, everyone planned to closely watch how the two ships were be greeted in Fuzhou and Xiamen, cities in the southeast Chinese province of Fujian.
Taiwan’s cautious, wait-and-see attitude was evident in Kinmen, where John Deng, vice chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, responsible for China policy, was the only official from the federal government to appear in public. “We hope we can use this as a useful experience to expand, facilitate and expedite larger scale issues,” he told reporters.
Next Step: Direct Links?
If all goes well, the government has said it will make an even bigger move: opening direct air and shipping traffic between China and the main island of Taiwan, separated by the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
Now, Taiwanese who do business in China—Taiwan’s No. 2 market for trade and investment—can’t travel or ship their goods directly to the mainland. They must go through Hong Kong, Macau or another third port, creating great inconvenience and expense. Many believe opening the “big links” would create one of the world’s most booming trading zones.
Before the big links can happen, the two sides will have to hold high-level negotiations — something they don’t seem ready to do soon.
On Monday, the ill-fated first voyage from Kinmen toward Xiamen was halted by rough seas and high winds.