Swim arranged from Fujian to Taiwanese islet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2009, 12:00am

Taiwan and the mainland will hold their first official cross-strait swimming competition between Quemoy and Xiamen in August in a further sign of warming ties, a Taiwanese official said.

Fifty swimmers from each side, which were perennially at odds until Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou won a presidential election in Taiwan last March, will swim from a beach in Xiamen, Fujian province, to Taiwan's Quemoy islands, a former defence outpost.

The 8.5km 'Quemoy-Xiamen Crossing' was made possible after Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top mainland-policy-planning body, gave approval in March, organiser Lee Juh-feng, a Quemoy county magistrate, said.

He said that since he had become magistrate seven years ago he had been trying to organise a cross-strait swimming event.

Mainland authorities have approved the Xiamen city government as co-host of the event.

Taiwan's military, citing security concerns, had objected to the event, but after the Mainland Affairs Council gave approval, the military finally agreed to Mr Lee's plan, the magistrate said.

From July 15, Taiwan's military would remove anti-tank and anti-landing-craft barricades deployed along about 350 metres of the coast at Shuangkou on Lesser Quemoy - where the long swim would end.

'The great meaning of the competition is that it is an event for peace,' Mr Lee said, adding that after more than six decades of hostility across the Taiwan Strait, what Quemoy residents wanted most was peace.

With cross-strait ties warming, it was time to end rivalry and military conflict so that Quemoy would no longer be a battlefield.

The mainland fired more than 470,000 shells at Quemoy over 44 days in 1958, killing 618 people, in an attempt to take over the small group of islets, the closest of which is just 2km from Xiamen.

Asked if the barricades would go back up after the swimming event, Mr Lee said: 'They will be placed back only if necessary.'

Under the plan, the event will start at Yefengzhai beach in Xiamen at 11.40am on August 15, and 100 swimmers from the two sides will swim ashore at Shuangkou at about 2.40pm the same day. They will be welcomed on the shore before moving on to Quemoy proper for a formal presentation ceremony.

The direct swim between Yefengzhai and Shuangkou is about 6km, but because of strong sea currents, organisers have devised a course of 8.5km to avoid them.

All qualifying swimmers must be able to swim 10km in 21/2 hours, the organisers said.

Each swimmer would be accompanied by a lifeguard and a boat equipped with lifesaving facilities.

Coastguards of the two sides would send larger vessels to escort the swimmers to the borders of their respective waters. Only the swimmers and their lifeguards would be allowed to land at Quemoy, the organisers said.