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China sends boat to Taiwan to lift shipping ban

ferry arriving in Kinmen
The Chinese ferry arrives in Kinmen  

HONG KONG, China -- A Chinese boat has ferried 97 mainlanders on a historic trip to Taiwan's outlying island of Kinmen.

It is the first trip of its kind since Communists took power in China 51 years ago.

No officials accompanied the entourage, and Kinmen tourism officials say the event was organized by non-government associations from both sides. The trip was originally planned for January but was put off until after the Chinese New Year.

A second group of 131 Kinmen residents will travel to Xiamen later Tuesday. But local officials say no more cross strait trips have been scheduled.

The journey echoes the landmark voyages of two boats from Kinmen and Matsu, another Taiwan-held island, to the mainland on January 2.

Beijing has played down the January trips, which marked the lifting of a ban on shipping, postal and trade -- dubbed the 'Mini-Three Links' -- between Fujian and Kinmen since 1949.

During the January 2 exchange, Kinmen county officials and pilgrims arrived in southern coastal cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou in Fujian and met with Xiamen government officials.

A group of ten Taiwanese businessmen who hold mainland investments sailed to Xiamen on February 2 after the Taiwan government's Mainland Affairs office organized a forum in Kinmen on investing in the mainland.

But Kinmen residents are skeptical about the economic benefit of the "Mini-three Links". Yang Tsai-ping, general secretary of the Kinmen Visitors' Association, says very little has changed since the January voyage.

Six thousand Kinmen people have received direct mainland entry permit but no boats have been organized to carry them across.

Yang says the application process is complicated as both sides across the strait have different bureaucratic procedures.

"We don't know if the mainland is making it difficult because of their One China policy," he says. "So far, the 'Mini-Three Links' could only make it legal for smuggling in the strait."

"The 'Mini-Three Links' has begun but we haven't seen anything concrete. This time the mainland is sending these old people to visit their relatives for humanitarian reasons. Will there be more trips?" he asks.

Taiwanese ships make history with quick trip to China
Q & A: Crossing the Straits

Kinmen government
Taiwan's Central News Agency

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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