Xiamen welcomes move to open Taiwan route
Xiamen and its port authority say they are prepared for Beijing's move to open direct sea links with Taiwan, even though Taiwan has yet to agree.
Xiamen mayor Hong Yongshi said both Chinese and Taiwanese economies would benefit from the direct shipping links.
Xiamen and Fuzhou, in Fujian province, have been selected as pilot ports for the ground-breaking move.
China's Ministry of Communications announced on Tuesday - effective immediately - it would open Xiamen and Fuzhou ports to Taiwanese, Chinese and jointly owned vessels anchoring directly from the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
The route will be treated as a 'special domestic route' excluding foreign liners.
Beijing did not inform Xiamen or Fuzhou before the announcement, despite the fact Xiamen deputy mayor Zhang Zhongxu had announced the plan was being studied and prepared some time ago.
Sources said Xiamen Harbour Bureau and shipping sector officials would go to Beijing soon to discuss with the Ministry of Communications details of how to implement the direct sea link.
Mr Zhang, charged with Xiamen's Taiwan affairs, welcomed positive responses from Taiwan to the proposal.
Both Mr Hong and Mr Zhang were optimistic the direct link would open soon, resulting in closer economic co-operation.
'Politically speaking, Taiwan's direct shipment with Hong Kong after the handover next July will be the same as direct shipment with the mainland,' Mr Zhang said.
Mr Hong said: 'The direct sea link will boost economic development on both sides of the strait, especially Taiwan, reducing the operation costs of Taiwanese investors in China.' Transportation costs are high as a result of Taiwan having to re-route all shipments to China via a third country, most of them through Hong Kong, as direct shipments are still banned by the Taiwanese Government.
Mr Hong said about one-third of containers handled by Xiamen port belonged to Taiwanese investors.
Last year Xiamen port handled a total of 310,000 teus (20-foot equivalent container units) and was expecting to increase this to 400,000 teus this year, according to the mayor. Mr Hong said Xiamen was already well-equipped to handle the proposed direct link.
'On the port area, we have built a passenger terminal and immigration facilities. We have berths which are capable of handling vessels of 50,000 dwt [dead-weight-tonnes],' he said.
'We have set up ocean navigation services and securities and savings services in accordance with international requirements.
'Now what we have to do is line up all the facilities and enhance the management standard and quality in order to welcome Taiwanese passengers and vessels directly from across the Taiwan Strait.'