An economic region spanning both sides of the Taiwan Straits may seem like a distant dream, but east China's Fujian Province is doing everything it can to make it a reality.
The government of the province, located 120 kilometers across the water from Taiwan, is hoping to better integrate the two economies through the establishment of the West-Straits Economic Area.
"Building a prosperous economic area will benefit not only Fujian's economic development but also cross-Straits economic integration," said Wang Sanyun, deputy secretary of Fujian Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China.
He said that a wealthier and more open Fujian would be a more appealing destination for Taiwan investors.
The provincial government proposed the strategy in 2004 in a bid to bring its close relations with Taiwan into full play, and it was approved by the central government last year, who included it into the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).
Wang said the strategy was based on Fujian's location as well as its special role in promoting cross-Straits relations.
"What we need to do is make the most of our unique advantage of enjoying the closest ties with Taiwan," he said.
The people of Taiwan and Fujian share the same dialect, culture, customs and, above all, common ancestry.
More than 80 percent of the island's 23 million people have their ancestral homes in Fujian, mainly resulting from large-scale migration in the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911).
Chen Ling, deputy director of Fujian Provincial Office of Taiwan Affairs, said Fujian has played a "unique and outstanding role" in pushing for cross-Straits exchanges and cooperation.
Chen said Fujian's strong links with Taiwan would continue to propel economic growth in the province.
Yan Zheng, president of Fujian Academy of Social Sciences, said establishing the West-Straits Economic Area will not only better integrate the highly complementary economies of Fujian and Taiwan, but also help improve China's economic layout.
The Yangtze River Delta region and Pearl River Delta region have both become major regional markets and economic powers, but Fujian, with a population of 35 million, is one of the weak links in China's coastal economies.
"We hope the West-Straits Economic Area will be built into another growth engine," Yan said.
"Someday, Fujian and Taiwan may form a cross-Straits economic region as powerful as the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions."
Yan said his academy has drawn up a report for the provincial government on how to improve links between industries in Taiwan and Fujian.
The report is expected to help Fujian better attract industrial transfer from Taiwan and facilitate industrial upgrading on the island.
During his recent visits to Taiwan, Yan said he felt interest in the establishment of the West-Straits Economic Area was growing among the business community.
Yan added that Taiwan investors raised quite a lot of questions about the impact of the plan on their investments in Fujian.
"Taiwan politicians may not like it (the establishment of West-Straits Economic Area)," he said. "But Taiwan business people have given their support as it will generate more business opportunities."
(China Daily August 4, 2006)