China is preparing to build an airport on land claimed from the sea near Taiwan, local media reported on Tuesday, as Beijing moves ahead with plans to integrate development with the island amid political tension.
Under the new document released by Fujian, a province across the strait from Taiwan, the new airport is planned between the islets of Dasha and Xiaosha, off the east coast of Pingtan county.
Pingtan – an island measuring 392 sq km (150 square miles) with a population of 350,000 – is home to a pilot free-trade zone set up by Beijing in Fujian province in 2013 to boost trade with Taiwan.
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According to Minxi Daily, the airport will cost about 3 billion yuan (US$463 million) and will be built on land claimed from the sea as part of Fujian’s plan to transform Pingtan island into a transport and logistics hub.
It is not clear when construction will start, but the newspaper said once completed, the airport would serve as a major aviation and logistics hub with access to Taiwan.
As part of China’s comprehensive transport expansion plan by 2035 Fujian, now a front runner and a key player in Beijing’s integration development plan with Taiwan, announced its ambitious infrastructure-building guideline earlier this month.
That includes more than 10 new civil airports as well as dozens of new ports.
The guideline said local authorities would continue to push forward the study of land connectivity with Taiwan while accelerating construction on the mainland side of bay bridge projects linking with Matsu and Quemoy (also known as Kinmen). Both islands are close to Fujian but are under the control of Taiwan.
Taipei has said the plans were made unilaterally by the mainland and there was no need to have a bridge connecting with the mainland.
In what critics see as part of the mainland’s long-term efforts to bring the self-ruled island under its sway, Beijing has in the past announced a series of high-profile programmes to boost infrastructure and trade with Taiwan, including creating a comprehensive experimental zone in Pingtan in 2009 which, two years later, was elevated as part of a national strategy.
Between 2011 and 2015 alone, China invested over 250 billion yuan to improve infrastructure in Pingtan, according to local officials, and in 2016 Fujian proposed plans to build a highway connecting Beijing and Taipei through Pingtan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly endorsed Fujian’s integration development plan. During his visit to the province in March, he told local officials to “be bold in exploring new paths for integrated cross-strait development”.
However, political tensions between Beijing and Taipei have run high since 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president of the island and refused to accept the one-China policy, a move that infuriated Beijing. Official exchanges have been suspended since then.
While Tsai has become increasingly vocal, speaking out against China’s aggression, Beijing has stepped up military and economic pressure on Taipei. In 2019, Beijing abruptly stopped issuing individual travel permits to mainlanders for Taiwan and in February this year, it banned imports of pineapple from the island.
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