Ports to support cross-strait trade

New clusters to be built in Fujian and southern Guangdong

Two new port 'clusters' will be added along the coast of the mainland, designed in part to boost economic development across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan responded to the plan yesterday by saying it was understandable that the mainland would want to expand clusters given the growing needs of mainland-bound Taiwanese businesspeople.

One centre would be based around the Fujian city of Xiamen - opposite Taiwan - to connect with Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Putian and Zhangzhou, while the other will be built around Hainan and southern Guangdong, according to Xinhua.

Communications Minister Li Shenglin was quoted as saying the Fujian port blueprint was part of the central government's Western Shore Economic Zone plan, a scheme designed to develop economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan. Mr Li said the facilities were part of the preparations for free trade relations between the mainland and Taiwan.

Although there had been little progress on the issue so far, he said the infrastructure would benefit business communities on both sides of the strait. Each port would have a different function within the larger system and the plans were aimed at 'expanding the transport capacity of the Chinese coast to match the economy's fast growth'.

Zhangzhou will be a base for China's imports of crude oil and natural gas, and the other cities covered by the southeast scheme will mainly handle containers.

Zhanjiang, Fangcheng and Haikou will form a container transport network in the south and serve as entry and storage points for imported crude oil and natural gas. Zhanjiang, Fangcheng and Basuo will handle mineral imports.

A vice-chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, David Huang Wei-feng, said mainland data suggested a need for the facilities. 'Statistics provided by the mainland have shown that 4.1 million Taiwanese visit the mainland every year, indicating there is a need to increase or expand port facilities and services for Taiwanese businesspeople,' he said.

Taiwan was also expanding its facilities and customs services at its two existing 'mini-three link' ports in Kinmen and Matsu, Mr Huang said.

Three port clusters have already been established at the: Yangtze River Delta near Shanghai; Pearl River Delta near Shenzhen; and Bohai Sea coast in Tianjin .

China Communications and Transportation Association president Qian Yongchang said the recent rapid development of China's ports led to the idea of using a cluster concept. 'There were medium-sized and small ports before,' but their function was weak.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung