Taiwan-China's pact to boost water supply to Kinmen

TAIWAN - Taiwan's outlying county Kinmen, once the frontier of China-Taiwan hostilities, may soon get up to 20,000 tonnes of water a day from the mainland in a political first that tests the boundaries of cross-strait cooperation.

Government experts from both sides are expected to meet soon to discuss the construction of undersea pipes to deliver water enough to meet 40 per cent of the county's daily needs as early as the second half of 2016, county chief Li Wo-shi and an official from Taiwan's Water Resources Agency told The Straits Times on Thursday.

The project will alleviate the rural county's long-time water woes as well as satisfy rising demand from growing tourism, said Mr Huang Hung-pu, the official in charge of the project. "The 20,000 tonnes will be sufficient to meet Kinmen's needs until 2021," said Mr Huang.

One cubic metre of pure water is equivalent to one metric tonne.

The two sides have yet to hash out details, including the supply amount and price, the officials said. But the project, which was officially given the go-ahead at talks between cross-strait negotiators last month, shows how far relations have come, said Mr Li.

Located just 10km from the mainland and 277km from Taiwan proper, Kinmen officially remained a "war zone" till as late as 1992 in the civil war between the two sides. China had offered to ship water to the county in the 1990s but the offer was ignored by then President Lee Teng-hui and his successor Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

While relations have since mended and flourished under current President Ma Ying-jeou, even the China-friendly Mr Ma is wary of moving too close to Beijing amid entrenched preference among Taiwanese for the political status quo.

It was not until early this year that Mr Ma announced that his administration, which has signed 19 pacts with China in the past five years, was finalising plans for Kinmen to tap mainland water.

The green light could not have come fast enough. Tourist arrivals in the county, made up of a main island and 12 islets with a population of 68,000, have been rising by double-digit percentages, to 1.26 million last year.

Of this, 40 per cent were from the mainland and 60 per cent from the rest of Taiwan. New tourism projects, such as a 7.45ha duty-free shopping and entertainment zone, are expected to come on stream in the years ahead.

Kinmen's current daily water consumption of 40,000 tonnes will rise to 46,000 tonnes by 2016 and 60,000 tonnes by 2021, said Mr Huang. Besides getting water from China, Kinmen's sole desalination plant will be expanded to increase production from 600 tonnes a day to 4,000 tonnes.

"We hope that Kinmen would have a variety of water supplies, just like Singapore," he said.

The DPP, which has little support in Kinmen, has indicated approval for the project. Its first and only representative in the county assembly, Mr Chen Tsang-chiang, told the United Daily News politics and bread-and-butter issues ought to be kept separate.

Still, talk of even more radical breakthroughs in cross-strait ties, such as a bridge linking Kinmen and the Chinese city of Xiamen it faces, is premature, said Mr Li, the Kinmen chief. "We have the money and the technology, but the political environment is not ready yet."

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