China province eyes closer Taiwan ties

China province eyes closer Taiwan ties

China's southeastern Fujian province plans to create an economic zone intended to speed up economic ties with Taiwan.

The zone will initially cover coastal areas of Fujian, the mainland point nearest to Taiwan, and gradually expand to inshore areas in neighboring Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, Huang Xiaojing, executive vice governor of Fujian, said in announcing the West Coast Economic Zone.

Fujian was one of China's first provinces to allow overseas investment and has one of the first special economic zones at the Port of Xiamen.

It and the nearby Port of Fuzhou, the provincial capital, are also the only designated points for sea trade with Taiwan.

Substantial expansion of Xiamen is expected after government approval to develop the Songyu district into a deep-water gateway.

Phase one will see construction of three 100,000-ton container berths, each more than 4,000 feet long, to be completed in 2005. Completion of the entire project will enable the port to accommodate ships up to 6,000-TEU capacity, the Ministry of Communication said.

Plans also call for Songyu to eventually be located within a customs bonded area and have warehousing facilities.

Xiamen handled 2.33 million TEUs in 2003. Throughput is expected to increase to 5.5 million TEUs by 2005.

The Xiamen special economic zone has initial approval to become a free port with a dedicated logistics area and export processing. It already has a bonded zone.

The government in Taiwan maintains a ban on direct sea or air transport with the mainland, except for goods routed through a designated "offshore" zone within the main Port of Kaohsiung. Officials are gradually easing restrictions by adding other areas with similar special districts.

Fujian, China's 11th largest provincial economy with gross domestic product of 523 billion yuan ($63.27 billion) in 2003, will build on its electronic information, machinery, petrochemical, construction and apparel industries, Huang said. Improved infrastructure and better access for overseas investors are also promised.