China and Taiwan are closer than they have been for nearly 60 years with the opening of direct air, sea and postal links.
The new routes are a sign that frosty relations are thawing and a real boost for mutual trade. It will mean goods and passengers will no longer have to travel via places like Hong Kong and Macau, and can simply hop 160 kilometres across the Taiwan Strait. On the practical side, cutting out the middle man will help investors on both sides make savings. Symbolically, it is proof of the new political goodwill between China and Taiwan, whose pro-Chinese president Ma Ying-Jeou celebrated a win-win situation. He said: “It represents a reconciliation between two sides. We are no longer at confronting positions or in the middle of a conflict. In other words, we are using negotiation instead of confrontation, reconciliation instead of conflict.” But shorter delivery times are not enough to satisfy everyone. Some Taiwanese critics of the direct links fear the island could lose some of the sovereignty it has enjoyed since 1949. That was when some two million Chinese fled the communist rebellion bound for the island, a haven for Kuomintang nationalists. Mao Zedong’s communists took control of the mainland as the Chinese civil war drew to an end, while Chiang Kai Shek made Taiwan into a nationalist fortress. Beijing has never recognised Taiwan, except as part of The People’s Republic of China, and has made it known that it would use force if ever Taipei declared independence. For every simulated Chinese invasion from the mainland, Taiwan has responded with its own military exercises. In recent years there has been less talk of either independence or unification coming from Taiwan. The two sides are no longer a world apart. From now on, they are only an hour away.