Taiwan residents dream thin plastic braceletsof bridge to offshore islands

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Taiwan compatriots arrive at Wutong in Xiamen, Fujian province, after taking a ferry from Jinmen, Taiwan, on Jan 21. CHINA DAILY

For years, Taiwan resident Wu Chia-ying has hoped to see a bridge connecting the bustling mainland to Jinmen, an islet attached to Taiwan but lying off the coast of Xiamen, Fujian province.

"When the weather is fine, standing on the seaside of Xiamen, you can even see every inch of Jinmen, as if you could reach the other side by lifting your foot," said the 56-year-old, who started a trading business in Xiamen 20 years ago.

Xiamen and Jinmen-separated by a narrow stretch of water-share geographical ties, dialect and customs. "Residents feel at home when visiting the other city," he said.

Shipping is now the only mode of transportation between them. In 2018, passengers made 1.75 million trips between the two places, the largest since the route"s inception in January 2001.

A total of 1,420 vessel trips are scheduled between Xiamen and Jinmen during this year"s Spring Festival travel rush, transporting 180,000 passengers, up 4.7 percent year-on-year, local authorities have estimated.

However, although boats come back and forth every day, the waterway traffic is often suspended once typhoons and fog occur, said Wu, who is also president of the Taiwan Businessmen Association in Xiamen.

"It greatly affects people"s commuting and also restricts the development of Jinmen and exchanges between the two places," said Wu, a frequent commuter due to business.

While addressing a gathering in Beijing to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan, President Xi Jinping called for closer cross-Straits ties, and proposed connecting Fujian to the islands of Jinmen and Matsu via water and gas pipelines, an electricity grid and road bridge.

Wu said that Taiwan compatriots are hoping that these proposals could get realized "because they really benefit our lives".

A bridge will make up for the deficiencies of water transport, but also promote the economic development of Jinmen and enable Taiwan compatriots to fully enjoy the dividends of the mainland"s development, he said.

From Jan 27 to 30, a Jinmen delegation led by county head Yang Cheng-wu paid a visit to Fujian to discuss the potential cooperation with the mainland.

Fujian"s Party chief Yu Weiguo said at a meeting with the delegation that Fujian aspires to contribute to peaceful cross-Straits reunification by leveraging its unique advantages with Taiwan.

In August, a 28-kilometer pipeline-delivering 34,000 cubic meters of water from Fujian to Jinmen-went into operation to alleviate a water shortage on Jinmen.

Yu said the province is exploring the potential for better cross-Straits connectivity in trade, infrastructure, resources and industry standards. He hoped that with joint efforts, a flow of electricity and gas, as well as a bridge to Jinmen and Matsu from Fujian, could be realized as soon as possible.

"Building a bridge has been the wishes of generations of Taiwan businessmen," Wu said, "It will not only shorten the distance between the two cities, but also bring the hearts of compatriots on both sides closer."