During his visit to Taiwan in late March, Governor Su Shulin of China’s Fujian Province promoted the Pingtan Economic Experimental Zone to Taiwanese businesses, urging overall joint industrial cooperation. However, Taiwan’s Premier Joan Chen took a more cautious approach, warning of the political implications in the case, saying instead that it is best “discussed under the framework of the ECFA.” The ECFA is a free trade agreement-like arrangement between Taiwan and China, signed on June 29, 2010, which aims to reduce tariffs and commercial barriers between the two sides.
Pingtan is the largest island off China’s Fujian Province, covering an area of 370 square kilometers with a population of nearly 400,000. Pingtan is the Chinese territory that is closest to Taiwan. In 2009, China’s State Council decided to develop the Pingtan zone as a demonstration to explore cross-strait exchanges and cooperation and as a pilot for technological development of the West Taiwan Strait Economic Zone.
The Taipe-based Central News Agency reported that Yiin Chii-ming, Minister of Taiwan’s Council for Economic Planning and Development, said Pingtan Island is in the development stage, so its transport facilities, housing and social conditions are not yet fully realized. It is a potential risk for Taiwanese businesses to rush to invest there.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) noted that the Pingtan experimental zone was established by China in line with the principle of “one country, two systems,” with the aim of the “five joints,” including joint planning, joint development, joint operation, joint management and mutual benefits with Taiwan. According to the poll, 80 percent of Taiwanese people do not buy into the “one country, two systems” idea and Taiwan’s government has no intention to jointly plan the Pingtan experimental zone with China, and expects that “Taiwanese businesses will not be misled.” The Central News Agency reported, the MAC Minister Lai Shin-yuan said in the Legislative Yuan that the Pingtan case should be viewed economically, and should not be promoted on political grounds or for propaganda purposes.
The United Evening News commented that Pingtan Island was only valued for its fishing in the past, but now because of its proximity to Taiwan, with only 68 nautical miles to Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park – Taiwan’s Silicon Valley, Pingtan has gained an unprecedented strategic level of importance to China as an experimental zone for merging cross-strait economic development. President Ma Ying-jeou’s economic strategy is to use the ECFA as a fulcrum in an effort to promote regional economic integration. Now, having rejected the Pingtan experimental plan, Taiwan’s government should maintain its strategy to use the ECFA to develop Chinese industrial cooperation.
Professor Shen Ming-shih of the National Defense University Department of Strategic Studies expressed reservations about Pingtan in a United Daily News article. He stressed that Pingtan attempts to attract Taiwan capital, talent and experience to invest in the West Taiwan Strait Economic Zone. Besides, Pingtan Island was once an important venue for China’s military exercises. According to the plans, there will be routine sea passage and flights from Pingtan to Taiwan’s major cities in the future, which will definitely impact the original strategic purpose of the island, which served as buffer in the Taiwan Strait.
The Central News Agency reported that Taiwan’s National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai De-sheng said in the Legislative Yuan that it is highly inaccurate to say that there is no political plot in the Pingtan experimental zone. He is opposed to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s statement that he “hopes to accelerate the development of the Pingtan experimental zone to make new contributions to promoting the great deed of peaceful reunification with Taiwan.”