Beijing plans road link across Taiwan strait
The Guardian, UK[Friday, January 14, 2005 21:58]
Leaders want rival capital included in motorway network

By Justin McCurry in Tokyo

It sounds like the ultimate bridge over troubled water. After more than half a century of estrangement, China and Taiwan could be linked by road within 30 years under ambitious plans unveiled in Beijing yesterday.

The mainland and the island - which Beijing considers a renegade province after it became home to fleeing nationalists at the end of the civil war in 1949 - still have no direct mail, air or trade links.

Even if they manage to resolve their political differences in the next couple of decades, the two sides will have to overcome considerable geographical barriers. They are separated by about 100 miles of sea - the Taiwan strait - in a part of the world frequently hit by earthquakes and typhoons.

China's communications minister, Zhang Chunxian, was vague yesterday about the precise nature of the link.

"It may be a bridge. It may be a tunnel. It's something to be accomplished in the future," he said, adding that he was confident of Taiwan's support, given its increasing economic dependence on the mainland.

If built, the tunnel or bridge would dwarf all existing feats of road-building. The world's longest undersea tunnel - the 34-mile Seikan, connecting the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido - is for trains only. The longest road tunnel, in Norway, stretches 15 miles, and the longest bridge, in the US state of Louisiana, is 24 miles long.

Taiwan's capital, Taipei, has been included in plans to link all of China's big cities in a vast motorway network to be built over 20 to 30 years at a cost of $242bn (£129bn). Mr Zhang said Taipei had been included because "we are in one same family sharing one integral network".

Under the plans, the total length of China's motorways will more than double to 53,000 miles. The network will include seven routes out of Beijing, nine from north to south and 18 from east to west. It will link all cities with populations of more than 200,000.

China has also announced a vast expansion of its railway network. This year, it will spend more than $12bn on rail construction, almost double the amount it spent last year, Liu Zhijun, the railways minister, told reporters in Beijing.

China's railways are reportedly able to meet only a third of potential demand for coal and other raw materials that feed the country's fast-growing industries.

An array of transport projects is already under way, including deep-water ports, airports and a railway line across the Himalayas into Tibet.

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