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Taiwan poised to warm ties with China

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Kinmen was a dangerous front line in the mid-20th century, with some 100,000 Kuomintang soldiers engaged in fierce artillery battles with the Communists just a few miles across the water.

Now, only about 5,000 Taiwanese soldiers remain at coastal gun emplacements and other sites. Ferry terminals have replaced minefields; in 2001, daily runs were established with two cities on the mainland. These give Chinese tourists a chance to visit Taiwan and some Taiwanese businessmen a shortcut to their mainland factories. Most cross-strait travel, by contrast, must pass through a third location such as Hong Kong.

China-Kinmen transits have soared from 21,000 in 2001 to 725,000 last year; homeward-bound mainlanders crowd the ferry terminal with huge hauls of the island's famous goods.

Boosting cross-strait ties

The Kuomintang's (KMT) Ma Ying-jeou, who led in the latest available polls, has made the more ambitious pledges of the two candidates. He promises direct cross-strait flights, more Chinese tourists and investment allowed into Taiwan, and, possibly, a cross-strait common market. He also wants to engage Beijing in peace talks and is willing to accept the "one China" principle in order to do so.

His rival, Frank Hsieh, makes similar promises, but is more cautious. And his party refuses to accept any version of the "one China" principle, which would make cross-strait political talks more difficult, if not impossible.

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