Taiwan on Monday gave the green light for building a bridge between two small islands that it controls off China, in what officials called a first step towards connecting the islets with the mainland.
A bridge linking the Taiwan-held Kinmen group of islands with China would be a powerful symbol of improved ties between Taipei and Beijing, as the area is so far best known as the scene of their bloodiest battle in the past 60 years.
That prospect has now moved closer with the decision by Taiwan’s Council for Economic Planning and Development to approve the 5.3-kilometre (3.3-mile) bridge from Kinmen proper to neighbouring Little Kinmen.
“The bridge that has now been approved can be seen as a part of the project to connect with the mainland,” Kinmen county magistrate Lee Wuo-tu told reporters.
The bridge will cost 5.7 billion Taiwan dollars (178 million US dollars) and is expected to be completed by 2016.
It will make a much-discussed bridge to China more feasible, as Little Kinmen is about five kilometres (three miles) from the mainland, while a bridge from Kinmen proper would have to be almost nine kilometres (six miles) long.
An official with the county government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision has boosted the feasibility of constructing a bridge between Little Kinmen and Xiamen, one of southeast China’s largest cities.
The proximity to the mainland that now makes a bridge a real possibility for Kinmen placed it in mortal danger just a few decades ago.
The Chinese army fired more than 470,000 shells on Kinmen and several other islets in a 44-day artillery bombardment beginning on August 23, 1958, killing a total of 618 servicemen and civilians and injuring more than 2,600.
As late as the 1970s, China still bombarded the island, although by then the shells were stuffed with propaganda leaflets.
However, tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allow in more mainland tourists.