Published: 10:10, February 9, 2023 | Updated: 10:12, February 9, 2023
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DPP urged to ease curbs on ferry services
By Zhang Yi

Taiwan authorities criticized for ignoring public opinion, says spokeswoman

Passengers wave goodbye to those seeing them off on a ferry to Matsu from Fuzhou, Fujian province, on Sunday. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party has been urged to remove its travel restrictions on passenger ferry services between the Chinese mainland and Kinmen and Matsu, which are administered by Taiwan.

The DPP announced recently that ferry services between the coastal areas of East China's Fujian province and the outlying islands will continue to operate. However, they will remain limited to Kinmen and Matsu residents.

Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday that the restrictions "have made it difficult for the ferry routes to play their role in cross-Straits exchanges", adding it was "no wonder people on the island criticized them (the DPP) for ignoring public opinion".

The ferry services were launched in 2001 as a way for people to travel across the Straits. The services were suspended by DPP authorities in February 2020 as part of COVID-19 pandemic prevention and control measures.

However, they were allowed to resume temporarily last month to facilitate Spring Festival travel.

From Jan 7 to Monday, about 78 ferry services operated between two cities in Fujian and the outlying islands. A total of 5,170 passengers traveled between Xiamen and Kinmen and between the provincial capital, Fuzhou, and the Matsu islands over the period, according to official data.

During the Spring Festival holiday, many people traveled by ferry to reunite with their families. Li Han-chiang, a Kinmen resident, took a ferry from the island before Chinese New Year to visit his relatives in Fujian. Taking a ferry was also a cost-effective travel option, he said.

"It's a common aspiration of Taiwan residents for the services to be restored to normal," he said.

After the temporary ferry services ended on Monday, the island decided to continue the policy. However, the ferry services are still only available to people with household registration in the Kinmen and Matsu islands and their mainland spouses.

The restrictions exclude Taiwan residents on the mainland from taking a ferry to Kinmen or Matsu, from where they can fly to Taiwan. DPP authorities said the arrangement is necessary to address concerns over COVID-19 spreading.

Zhu condemned DPP authorities for using the epidemic as an excuse to obstruct cross-Straits exchanges, saying it was not what the public wanted.

She called on the DPP to put the people's welfare first, lift all restrictions as soon as possible and resume full ferry services.

Song Tao, head of both the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, visited Xiamen last month to learn about the ferry operations. He also met with representatives of Taiwan compatriots working in Fujian to listen to their opinions and suggestions.

Song said during the visit that as the epidemic is under control on the mainland, people on both sides of the Straits have a strong desire for exchanges. The mainland attaches great importance to this and is fully prepared for the resumption of full ferry services

Fan-Chiang Feng, who is from Taiwan and works in Fujian, said young people on both sides need exchanges and cooperation and the DPP authorities should remove all restrictions on cross-Straits exchanges.

Zhu said that as the epidemic is well controlled on the mainland, compatriots on both sides of the Straits and the airline industry are eager for the full resumption of direct flights.

To meet their needs, airline authorities last week informed the island to prepare for the resumption of flights. Restoration of flights to 16 priority destinations, including Guangzhou, Guangdong province, have been suggested, said Zhu.

"It was just the first step, and after that, we will continue to promote the resumption of more destinations to meet people's need for cross-Straits exchanges," she said.