By Sarah Wu

KINMEN, Taiwan (Reuters) -Pointing at Xiamen’s skyscrapers throughout the water from his workplace, Chen Tsang-chiang recalled how 30 years in the past the southern Chinese language metropolis was as low-slung as his Taiwanese island of Kinmen.

Within the following many years, the 68-year-old former politician watched the metropolis of 5 million individuals rise, whereas Kinmen’s forests, sorghum fields, and villages noticed little change.

What the Taiwan-controlled island concerning the dimension of Washington, DC, and just some 5 km (three miles) off China’s coast wants, Chen says, is a bridge to Xiamen – “a connection to an financial lifeline”.

However the proposed bridge has develop into a flashpoint forward of Taiwan’s Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary elections, drawing leaders from all main events to the island to discuss its building or nationwide safety. It strikes on the coronary heart of an important query voters can be answering within the polls: How ought to Taiwan relate to China?

Kinmen is a stronghold for Taiwan’s major opposition celebration the Kuomintang (KMT), which historically favours shut ties with China. Like many in Kinmen, Chen sees China as the important thing to growth and says residents ought to have the ability to vote on the proposed bridge.

“Should this 151-square-km small island, with tens of hundreds of individuals, ceaselessly be a chess piece for either side of the strait?” he requested. “Will we not have a voice?”

For Taiwan, Kinmen is the frontline of democracy and the closest level to China the place its electors will solid ballots. For China, Kinmen is a litmus check for its capacity to deliver Taiwan beneath Beijing’s management and a major goal in its appeal offensive.

In September, China unveiled its most complete blueprint but for cross-strait integration, that includes stronger transport, vitality, and enterprise hyperlinks between Xiamen and Kinmen. A Chinese language official mentioned in November that building on the Xiamen facet of a bridge that might hook up with Kinmen had begun.

Hou Yu-ih, the KMT’s presidential candidate, vowed to carry an area referendum on the bridge, saying he would construct “an important image of cross-strait peace” if residents needed it.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Get together (DPP) administration, via Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, dismissed Beijing’s proposals as “wishful considering” and a futile try to win over Taiwanese individuals with financial incentives. The council known as the bridge “a Malicious program carrying super nationwide safety dangers”.

China, which claims Taiwan as its personal territory regardless of Taipei’s objections, says “reunification” with Taiwan is inevitable and has by no means renounced using pressure to deliver the democratically ruled island beneath its management.

Beijing has solid the election as a alternative between peace and battle, and urged Taiwanese voters to make the “appropriate alternative” to advertise cross-strait relations.

China has taken explicit exception to the DPP’s presidential candidate, Vice President Lai Ching-te, saying he’s a harmful separatist.

Lai has mentioned he would preserve the established order and that solely Taiwan’s individuals can resolve their future.

The KMT additionally says Taiwan’s 23 million individuals ought to resolve their future, though it strongly opposes independence.


A few of about two dozen Kinmen residents interviewed for this story welcome the bridge as an indication that Taipei and Beijing may work collectively, a driver of development, or a method to journey unconstrained by the ferry schedule.

Others, particularly youthful voters, worry it will usher in undesirable funding and erode the political freedoms Kinmen enjoys as a part of Taiwan. Many from this rising group establish as Taiwanese relatively than Chinese language and wish to promote Kinmen’s tradition and rely much less on China for financial alternatives.

One in every of them is bookstore proprietor Weng Yu-wen, 34. She was a part of the 22% in Kinmen who in 2020 voted for the DPP’s candidate, present president Tsai Ing-wen, almost triple the DPP’s assist right here within the 2012 ballot.

Plastered on the wall of Weng’s bookstore is a poster that claims: “Youth return to your hometown to vote for a greater future.” The cabinets are lined with social and political books, together with one titled “What’s Democracy?”

As is widespread for Kinmen’s youthful technology, Weng studied and labored on the principle island of Taiwan earlier than returning. She mentioned she hopes her books and occasions will spark dialogue of public affairs.

When the ferry stopped throughout the pandemic, “we may very clearly really feel that we’re certainly two completely different nations,” Weng mentioned.

Earlier than that, residents typically took the ferry to Xiamen – the place many have property, enterprise, or household – for leisure or grocery procuring.

The frequency is pure given geographic proximity and historic ties, Weng mentioned, however she worries {that a} bridge would additional blur the boundary between their political techniques.

“If Kinmen grows nearer to mainland China, would this nonetheless be a spot the place I wish to stay?” she requested. “Why does it look like there is just one chance for growth?”

Kinmen residents as soon as made their residing serving the tens of hundreds of Taiwanese troopers stationed right here till martial legislation was lifted in 1992. In 2001, the institution of a 30-minute ferry service between Kinmen and Xiamen marked the start of the island reworking right into a magnet for Chinese language vacationers.

From Kinmen’s northern coast, cranes establishing a large airport to serve Xiamen are seen. The most probably bridge route would hook up with Xiamen through this airport, mentioned Kinmen’s deputy mayor, Li Wen-liang. He estimates it will prolong as much as 8 km and value greater than $322 million (T$10 billion).

The prospect of higher cross-strait integration spurred Taiwanese buyers to purchase a lot of the 118 models in Kinmen’s first serviced condo constructing, mentioned Henry Lee, common supervisor at Chiau-Mau Realty, which has overseen gross sales.

Commercials for the constructing – which opened one 12 months after Chinese language President Xi Jinping in 2019 outlined his imaginative and prescient for “built-in growth” – present larger property costs in Xiamen than in Kinmen.

“If individuals can enter, cash can enter,” reads one brochure that includes a map of the proposed bridge.

(Reporting by Sarah Wu; Extra reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Ann Wang; Modifying by Antoni Slodkowski and Michael Perry)

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