TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan announced on Thursday an expansion of shipping links to China following historic talks between the two rivals aimed at easing tension and boosting economic ties.
The change will enable all Taiwanese with valid transport documents to travel by boat from the Kinmen and Matsu islets to Xiamen and Quanzhou in China's southeast Fujian province, officials said.
"The cabinet has approved relaxing the restrictions ... effective today (Thursday)," said Lai Shin-yuan, the chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top China policy-making body.
The relaxation would provide another convenient means of transport to the mainland, which even foreigners could use if China allowed them entry, she said.
Taiwan and China signed historic agreements in Beijing earlier this month to open direct weekend charter passenger flights between major cities and boost tourism.
Trade and travel links across the Taiwan Strait have been restricted since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Under Taipei's ban on all direct links, passengers and goods have to transit via third ports, mainly Hong Kong.
Taiwan in 2001 allowed limited direct trade, postal services and transportation between Kinmen, Matsu and Xiamen. But only residents of the two islets were allowed to take the sea routes and had to travel in groups.
In 2006 the islet's residents, former residents and relatives were permitted to visit China individually via the links, while a new route -- between Kinmen and Quanzhou -- was added.
Despite political tension, China has become Taiwan's leading foreign investment destination, with an estimated 150 billion US dollars in mainland projects funded by the island's businessmen so far.
China is also Taiwan's largest export market.
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