Kinmen, part of Taiwan, pulls closer to China

A woman digging for clams amid old tank obstacles on the island county of Kinmen, which is governed by Taiwan but closer in distance to China. Beijing is pulling Kinmen closer into its fold by supplying drinking water to the county's residents.
A woman digging for clams amid old tank obstacles on the island county of Kinmen, which is governed by Taiwan but closer in distance to China. Beijing is pulling Kinmen closer into its fold by supplying drinking water to the county's residents.PHOTO: NYTIMES

KINMEN COUNTY (Taiwan) • The islands of Kinmen County, and the Nationalist troops stationed there, withstood artillery shelling from China long after the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war.

Today, relations between mainland China and Kinmen, just kilometres apart, are very different.

Kinmen, about twice the size of Manhattan in New York, has been governed from Taiwan since the defeated Nationalists fled China for the islands in 1949. But Taiwan's main island is 225km away, while China looms visibly in the near distance.

That distance is narrowing - both literally and figuratively.

A new airport for the Chinese city of Xiamen is being built just north of Kinmen, on an island about 5km away, and land reclamation for that project will bring Chinese territory almost 2km closer.

A proposed bridge to the Xiamen airport from Kinmen would essentially eliminate the remaining gap.

Last month, China began supplying Kinmen with drinking water through a new 16km pipeline. And Kinmen will probably soon get cheaper electricity from its onetime enemy.

The Aug 5 ceremony to open the pipeline underscored how much Kinmen, home to about 130,000 people, has been pulled into the orbit of China.

Mr Liu Jieyi, director of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, used his speech at the ceremony on the island to demand that self-governing, democratic Taiwan accept the "One China" policy which declares that Taiwan and China are part of the same country.

"The vast populace of Taiwan will certainly make the correct choice," Mr Liu said.

He almost certainly would not have made such a speech on Taiwan's main island, where suspicion of China runs high. When Mr Liu's predecessor toured Taiwan in 2014, he was met with protests in multiple cities and his car was splashed with paint.

Mr Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwanese lawmaker with the Democratic Progressive Party, said the freedom and democracy enjoyed in Kinmen made it unlikely that its residents would want to be part of authoritarian China.

But he said China's ruling Communist Party had had some success on the island with so-called United Front tactics, under which it works with non-communist groups to achieve its goals.

"As far as bringing Kinmen closer to China, I'd say at present it still looks doubtful," Mr Wang said, "but you can't deny that the resources China has invested in United Front work in Kinmen have had a certain effect."

Mr Chen Fu-hai, the elected magistrate of Kinmen County, said none of Taiwan's elected presidents had paid enough attention to the county's needs. After Kinmen's demilitarisation in 1992, he said, "we lacked water, we lacked electricity and we lacked roads - we had nothing".

Economically, he said, Kinmen has largely had to fend for itself since then, relying primarily on sorghum liquor sales and, more recently, Chinese tourism.

"Right now, actually, I see the mainland as also being quite democratic, at least what I've seen in Xiamen," Mr Chen said of the booming Chinese city nearby.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Kinmen, part of Taiwan, pulls closer to China'. Print Edition | Subscribe