The state council has endorsed plans to develop an economic zone on the mainland side of the Taiwan Strait, marking yet further improvement in financial ties with the island. The zone would be centred around southeastern Fujian province, aimed at spurring development in regions neighbouring Xiamen . Setting up a special economic zone in the area has been suggested several times by local officials in an attempt to match the pace of development in the prosperous Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas, but has failed to gain central government backing until now. The council gave its support to the plan at a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao , an official statement released last night said. 'Given the great positive changes in cross-strait relations recently, more powerful strategies should be taken to develop further Fujian province's comparative advantage,' the statement said, noting that the region would be able to capitalise on blood links, cultural ties and business relationships across the strait. The statement said the new zone would extend to meet the Yangtze delta in the north and the Pearl delta to the south - effectively creating a superzone running from Guangdong province to Jiangsu province . The new economic zone would principally be an experimental zone for promoting cross-strait exchanges and co-operation, and would require 'major reforms'. Yesterday, Xinhua reported that the state would speed up infrastructure construction in the region to meet the demand for the 'three direct links' - air, sea transport and postal services. The zone's eastern region would also become an 'important centre for natural and cultural tourism'. Setting up the new zone would require greater 'liberalised thinking' in order to create a win-win situation for both sides of the strait, the statement said. The approval comes after a year which has seen a dramatic softening of the central government's stance on Taiwan, with establishment of direct shipping, air and postal links plus agreements on closer economic ties. Last week, Beijing gave approval for mainland businesses to invest in Taiwan for the first time in 60 years. Relations between Beijing and Taipei had plunged to new depths during the eight-year presidency of Chen Shui-bian, from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. However, ties have been improving at an unprecedented rate since the Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou came to power on the island last year. Last month saw the third round of direct economic talks between the mainland and Taiwan since Mr Ma took office last May. The meeting, in Nanjing, saw agreement on allowing banks to offer financial services on both sides of the strait and allowing police forces to exchange information on important criminal and civil cases. The talks also resulted in a commitment to allow scheduled air links, which will see the number of flights crossing the strait more than double.