China will develop the region opposite Taiwan Province into another economic hub that can compete with the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas.
Local officials from East China's Fujian Province said they have prepared a proposal for a free-trade zone in Xiamen, for example, to realize the central government's scheme of building the Western Shore Economic Zone of the Taiwan Straits.
The scheme was written into the draft of the nation's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), currently under discussion by the National People's Congress (NPC) deputies.
"I believe it is a pure-hearted gesture for our highest leadership to push peaceful reunification forward," said Lu Zhangong, head of Fujian Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China.
The move comes as Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian has been pursuing a more radical secessionist path aimed at "independence" after his decision to scrap the island's council that deals with unification issues with the mainland.
"We are putting forth our best efforts to realize peace and stability across the Straits but we including myself are well prepared to go to the front line if our goodwill efforts fail," Lu told a group discussion on the 11th Five-Year Plan.
President Hu Jintao, in showing his support for the new economic zone, said China welcomes more Taiwan residents to do business with the mainland during his recent tour of Xiamen.
According to Lu, the western shore development plan is part of the country's regional development strategy for coastal China, where the Pearl River Delta in the south, the Yangtze River Delta in the east and economic zone around the Bohai Sea have already become development engines.
Compared with those economic zones, the region in Fujian Province, immediately opposite the straits from Taiwan, has fallen behind in recent years. "I think building the Western Shore Economic Zone is just a start and the messages between the lines are clear that there will be an economic zone across the Straits to boost China's further development," Lu said.
An urban cluster featuring Fuzhou, Xiamen and Quanzhou will be designed in the province to boost its urbanization, he said.
"But the western shore scheme is not just the business of Fujian," said Lu, adding that East China's Jiangxi Province, for example, will also be involved in the development plan.
Lu also said that the entire province is prepared to become an investment destination for Taiwan residents soon even though only four cities in Fujian are open to Taiwan investors currently.
Zhang Changping, mayor of Xiamen, the most developed coastal city opposite Taiwan, said yesterday that he is trying hard to include Xiamen on the central government's list of free-trade ports.
The mayor said the central government has been preparing to turn Shenzhen, Shanghai and Tianjin into free-trade zones to facilitate economic activity with the rest of the world.
"I'm suggesting that Xiamen should become a free-trade zone with Taiwan," Zhang said, "and we are going to seek approval from the central government."