China plans cross-strait highways with Taiwan

Beijing drafts plan for symbolic bridge, but lacks approval from Taiwanese authorities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 10:02am

The mainland government has recently approved a national road project that includes two cross-strait highways linking both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

If completed, the project would be a literal and figurative bridge between the mainland and Taiwan and would mark a major milestone in cross-strait relations.

However, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top cross-strait policy planning body, told the South China Morning Post the project had been "unilaterally worked out by mainland authorities".

"Based on national security concerns and cross-strait interactions, we have not planned anything with such high political sensitivity and complexity," the council said, spelling out the island's political and security concerns.

The mainland's State Council approved the National Highway Network Plan (2013-30) in June after it was proposed by the transport ministry, according to state media.

The China Daily reported last week that one of the proposed highways would start from Beijing and pass through Tianjin , Hebei , Shandong , Jiangsu , Anhui , Zhejiang and Fujian . Another highway would start in Chengdu and pass through Hunan , Jiangxi and Fujian before crossing the strait and ending in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.

It was unclear whether a bridge or undersea tunnel would be built to span the strait, but some analysts said a tunnel would be a better option. The proposal reportedly claims a 122-kilometre tunnel between Pingtan county, Fuzhou , and Hsinchu in northern Taiwan would provide for safe and efficient travel.

The tunnel would also be more than twice the length of the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France - currently the world's longest undersea tunnel.

Wu Zhiming , a tunnel expert and a professor at Tsinghua University, first came up with the cross-strait tunnel proposal in 1996. Since then, the Fujian provincial government has organised discussions and seminars, and invited experts, scholars and researchers, including some from Taiwan, to discuss the feasibility of the undertaking.

Taiwan and the mainland have been military enemies since the end of a civil war in 1949, but relations have warmed since Ma Ying-jeou became president of Taiwan in 2008 and adopted a policy of working with the mainland.

A road link between the two sides would likely not only have political implications, but it would save money on transport, compared with the high price of sea and air freights, economists said.

But what the economists dubbed a cross-strait economic zone would not come cheap. The proposal estimates that a tunnel could cost at least NT$2 trillion (HK$518 billion).

And despite the relatively warmer ties in recent years, Beijing still considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must eventually be reunified with the motherland.

This has drawn the ire of the island's pro-independence camp, led by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has rejected the proposed road link, saying it would create easier access to the island for mainland military forces.

"This is not the first time that the mainland has unilaterally worked out such a project," said Wang Kung-yi, a professor with the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

"Unilateral as this may be, the mainland has to create projects like this to show that it has the ability and confidence to do so."

In March 2009, then-railways minister Liu Zhijun proposed a cross-strait railway network linking Beijing with Taipei and Xiamen with Kaohsiung.

Wang said the DPP was opposed to such constructions, including building a bridge between Xiamen and the Taiwanese-controlled island of Quemoy, which the party fears could play into the mainland's "reunification scheme".

The government of Quemoy first proposed building the bridge in 2006, in a bid to increase tourism and economic exchanges with the mainland.

Ma voiced support for the bridge three months after becoming president in 2008, but he later stepped back amid mounting criticism from the pro-independence camp.

Currently, about 400,000 mainland tourists visit Quemoy every year, and the Quemoy government predicts that number would grow threefold if the bridge were constructed.




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