By Zhou Yan
SHANGHAI, May 3 (Xinhuanet) -- China's mainland made clear gestures of affinity with its island province Taiwan on Tuesday with promises to present Taiwan compatriots a pair of giant pandas,remove a ban for mainland residents to travel to the island and open its market wider to fruits produced in Taiwan.
Chen Yunlin, director of the Taiwan Work Office of Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, announced here Tuesday morning that the mainland compatriots have decided to present a pair of giant pandas, known as national gem, to Taiwan compatriots as a symbol of peace, unity and friendship.
He was entrusted by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council to make the announcement on the last day of the eight-day mainland tour by a Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) Party delegation headed by KMT Chairman Lien Chan.
"For many years, the mainland compatriots have had the wish to present giant pandas to Taiwan compatriots, and many Taiwan compatriots have repeatedly expressed their expectations to see cuddly pandas in Taiwan too," Chen said in Shanghai, the last stop of the KMT delegation's mainland tour from where the group will fly back to Taipei Tuesday afternoon.
Chen said the Taiwan compatriots' desire for giant pandas to settle down on the island has become ever stronger now that Lien's mainland tour and an upcoming visit by People First Party (PFP) leader James Soong have helped deepen the affection and affinity between Chinese compatriots on the two sides of the Straits.
"We hope the pandas, with their tame nature, air of nobleness and cuddly looks will bring joy and laughter to the Taiwan compatriots, children in particular," he said. "We hope Chairman Lien Chan and his KMT party, Chairman Soong and his PFP and all circles of the Taiwan society will make joint efforts to facilitate acceptance of the donation. And we hope relevant Taiwan departments in charge of the issue will take into consideration the long-time expectations of the Taiwan compatriots and approve the donation."
At the heel of the two cuddly pandas, who are yet to be named, will probably be a flock of travelers from the mainland, following the mainland's impending go-ahead for its residents to travel to Taiwan.
"Relevant departments of the Chinese mainland will soon allow mainland residents to tour in Taiwan," Chen said. "Removal of the travel ban will not just expand people-to-people contacts between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, but is conducive to boosting Taiwan's tourism, food and beverage and other related industries and will bring concrete benefits to the general public in Taiwan as well."
"For reasons known to all, the issue was long pending," he said."The KMT and PFP have expressed on many occasions the Taiwan compatriots' desire for mainland residents to travel to Taiwan -- the PFP has come up with specific proposals on this issue."
He said tourism administration and all relevant parties on the mainland welcome organizations from Taiwan's tourism industry to start consultations with the mainland side on an earlier date in order to make detailed arrangements accordingly.
Chen said it is the mainland's commitment to the Taiwan compatriots to keep adopting new policy measures to solve issues of the Taiwan compatriots' concern and to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests.
The Chinese mainland has in recent years drafted policies and rules to protect the legitimate rights of the Taiwan compatriots, simplified procedures and is currently working to develop into a regular practice the direct cross-Straits charter flights which are now conducted on festivals and holidays.
Statistics provided by the Chinese mainland side say that Taiwan compatriots made 3.686 million trips to the mainland in 2004, up 34.9 percent over the previous year. In the meantime, residents on the Chinese mainland made 145,000 trips to Taiwan, up14.2 percent year-on-year.
To date, Taiwan residents have made 33 million trips to the Chinese mainland since the Taiwan authorities gave them the green light in 1987.
Yet analysts say restrictions still exist in cross-Straits personnel exchanges, mainly because the Taiwan authorities have refused to open the island province to mainland tourists and the Taiwan leader's attempt to seek "Taiwan independence" has also seriously hindered exchanges between the two sides.
In a third gesture of goodwill, the Chinese mainland announced on Tuesday its decision to expand access of fruits produced in Taiwan to 18 species from the current 12, and to offer zero tariff on at least 10 species of fruits from the island province.
"Taiwan's high-quality fruits have high economic value and are a major source of the farmers' income," he said. "But difficulties in fruits sales caused by weather conditions, overproduction and problems in the distribution process often inflict heavy losses."
He said the CPC has reached consensus with the KMT and PFP to facilitate sale of Taiwan fruits to the mainland.
"The mainland is ready to provide convenience in terms of customs pass, inspection and quarantine for Taiwan fruits to access the mainland market," he said. "We hope relevant Taiwan departments in charge of the issue will give the green-light for Taiwan agricultural organizations to hold consultations with the mainland on issues concerning the place of origin certificate, inspection, quarantine as well as direct transport to improve efficiency and reduce risk."
The heavy influx of foreign farm produce has dealt a serious blow to Taiwan farmers over the past few years. Unable to find buyers, farmers sometimes leave their vegetables and fruits to rotin the fields.
China's mainland has been actively promoting the sale of Taiwan's farm produce to help alleviate difficulties of Taiwan farmers.
Hu Jintao, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, has urged efforts to facilitate the sale of Taiwan farm produce on themainland.
The trade of farm produce across the Taiwan Straits has been expanding in recent years, with annual trade hitting 421 million US dollars in 2004. Of this, the mainland took the delivery of 116 million dollars worth of farm produce from Taiwan, up 10.4 percentyear-on-year.
Currently, Taiwan's aquatic products, fruits, food stuff and tea have entered the mainland market, where no special restrictions are set against the entry of Taiwan's farm produce.
The biggest obstacle to the sale of Taiwan's farm produce on the mainland is the absence of direct flights. As the Taiwan authorities ban direct cargo and passenger flights across the Straits, the farm produce of Taiwan has to be transferred to the mainland via a third place, resulting in higher cost, longer time of shipment and more risks.
Analysts say the selling price of Taiwan fruits and vegetables on the mainland could be lowered by more than 10 percent if they were shipped directly to the mainland. Enditem