Taiwan mulls shipping water from China as ties improve

TAIPEI (AFP) - Officials on a Taiwan-controlled island group near the Chinese mainland said on Sunday they are considering importing water from China in yet another sign of warming relations.

The move would mark another significant step forward in the improvement of ties, since the fortified Kinmen island group was a flashpoint during the Cold War and was shelled from the mainland at one point.

Officials from Kinmen have discussed a proposal to use ships to transport water from Xiamen, a coastal city in China's southeastern Fujian province just miles away.

Water supplies, mostly from desalination, underground supplies and a tiny dam, are sufficient at the moment to meet the needs of some 100,000 civilians and of troops stationed there.

"But water supplies may fall short in the near future if more tourists, many of them from the mainland, visit Kinmen," Mr Chen Chaur-jiung of the Kinmen county government told AFP.

Chinese tourists make hundreds of thousands of visits to Kinmen each year.

From a long-term point of view, the Kinmen government hopes to instal pipes linking the Chinese city and Kinmen, Mr Chen said.

"The idea of buying water from the mainland was hard to imagine a few years ago," he said.

The Chinese army fired more than 470,000 shells on Kinmen and several other islets in a 44-day artillery bombardment beginning on August 23, 1958, killing 618 servicemen and civilians and injuring more than 2,600.

As late as the 1970s China still bombarded the island, although by then the shells were stuffed with propaganda leaflets.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allow in more mainland tourists.

He was re-elected in Jan 2012 for a second and last four-year term.