Beijing Dreams of High-Speed Railway Link With Rivals in Taipei

  • Study plan for transit link given brief mention in 5-year plan
  • Challenges of Fuzhou-Taipei link both political and technical

Medium- to long-term high-speed railway plan in China's national Five-Year Plan.

China is studying the possibility of a railway link between the mainland and Taiwan, the government’s latest idea to use its high-speed train know-how to bridge a stubborn political divide.

The proposal for a transit link across the 180-kilometer (110-mile) Taiwan Strait to the self-ruled island was referred to only in passing in the draft of the 2016-20 development plan released Saturday in Beijing. The document mentions the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, as a potential rail destination by 2030 and features a map of the train system, with a proposed rail line connecting the city with the mainland city of Fuzhou.

China’s medium- to long-term railway plan includes a link to Taipei.

Even if such a project were technically feasible, it would face huge challenges politically. Taiwan and the mainland have been governed separately since Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and have occasionally exchanged fire over the decades, with China test-firing missiles into the strait in the mid-1990s. Although the two sides have seen expanding economic ties in recent years, Taiwan voters in January ousted the more mainland-friendly Kuomintang government in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said Saturday that such a rail link would concern national security and public opinion and wasn’t up to China alone, the Taipei-based United Daily News reported, without naming any officials. President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP’s chairwoman, doesn’t take office until May 20.

Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters during rally in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Jan. 14.

Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters during rally in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Jan. 14.

Photographer: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

‘Secessionist Activities’

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned against any push by Taiwan to formalize it’s split from the mainland. "We will resolutely contain ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist activities in any form," Xi told a meeting of Shanghai delegates during the the National People’s Congress in Beijing, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. His remarks echoed earlier comments in Premier Li Keqiang’s annual report to the legislative body.

China Eyes Rail Link With Taiwan

China, which built the world’s largest high-speed rail network over the past two decades, is trying to leverage its expertise to build diplomatic clout globally and in 2014 even floated the idea of a 13,000-kilometer link to the U.S. via Siberia and Alaska. Such projects have faced political resistance from people wary of closer ties with China, with a proposed train link between Hong Kong and the mainland bogged down over concerns about stationing mainland immigration officers in the semi-autonomous city. 

The draft of China’s 13th five-year-plan proposed completing the rail connection between Hong Kong and Beijing by 2020. It also called for building a second link to the restive region of Tibet by the end of the next decade.

Full Coverage: China National People's Congress 2016

— With assistance by Simon Lee

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