- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

KINMEN, Taiwan — On this small island within artillery range of communist China, the contradictions between war and peace are obvious.
Taiwanese military forces continue to practice artillery strikes on the mainland from bunkers carved out of solid rock in the 1950s, when nationalists and communists lobbed artillery shells at each other and the island was known as Quemoy.
Today, Kinmen has become a test case for reconciliation efforts between the communist mainland and democratic Taiwan through budding trade, postal and transportation ties — called the three "minilinks."
The minilinks, however, have not led to greater contacts or lesser tensions between the two countries.
"So far, unfortunately, the [People's Republic of China] has not given us a friendly response," said County Commissioner Chen Shui-tsai, the island's top government official.
"But we won't give up. During the past six months we really had to open up, while the PRC has closed the door."
The commissioner remembered when the U.S. 7th Fleet was deployed to defend Quemoy in 1958 during the conflict.
The communist bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu another close-in island ruled by Taiwan drew major headlines in U.S. newspapers during the 1950s and became a political issue in the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate over whether the United States should defend the islands.
Mr. Chen said the links are a starting point for a relationship with China and a way to solve problems through "peaceful means."
China, for its part, continues to insist Taiwan is a breakaway province that must accept Beijing's formula for reunification, accepting the communist government as the leader of "one country" but allowing the existence of "two systems."
Taiwan's leader, Chen Shui-bian, said in an interview with The Washington Times on Friday that the formula is "unacceptable" to Taiwan's people.
Taiwan's government says its people do not want to be reunited under a communist dictatorship.
But there are signs Taiwan's resolve to hold out for reunification with a democratic China are weakening. Some Taiwanese business leaders have urged the Taipei government to accept Beijing's demands and get on with closer trade ties.
Several major corporations in Taiwan are packing up their operations and setting up in the mainland, where labor costs are much lower.
Mr. Chen, the Kinmen county commissioner, said about 3,000 Taiwanese have visited Xiamen, which is located about 10 miles from here, since the minilinks were set up in January.
But far fewer Chinese have visited Kinmen, Mr. Chen said.
And Chinese from Xiamen, a haven for Chinese organized crime groups, have used relaxed government controls to engage in illegal smuggling.
Taipei announced last week that it planned to set up special trade zones in Kinmen and Matsu to get a handle on the illegal trade that has been going on for years.
Mr. Chen said Kinmen plans to host a trade show with Chinese traders next month.
The commissioner said he does not think China will start a war. But he said China's ongoing, large-scale war games off Dongshan island, about 80 miles north of here, are a reminder that Beijing continues to threaten Taiwan with military force.
"The Dongshan island exercises are a display of their intention to use military force," he said.
A short drive by car down the road from Kinmen's county government offices, visitors who make the 50-minute flight to Kinmen from Taipei can go inside a military base.
An army artillery observation post located at the end of a tunnel provides a close-up look at nearby Chinese-ruled islands at the mouth of Xiamen harbor, where the Chinese military has its troops deployed.
Army troops at the base use long-range television cameras that can zoom in on Chinese soldiers guarding several barrier islands opposite Kinmen.
Farther down the road from the observation post, Taiwanese army soldiers are based inside another man-made cave, where they practice firing a 106-millimeter cannon.
Col. Jeff Chen, a military spokesman, said Taiwan doesn't want to fight a war with China, but the failure of the mainland to reciprocate Taiwan's opening-up gestures requires the military to be vigilant.
"Kinmen is a symbol of both war and peace," Col. Chen said. "We want peace, but the PRC doesn't respond."
Col. Chen, 41, grew up on Matsu, the other Taiwanese island further north that also is located along the coast of China's Fujian province. During the 1950s, he said, communist forces shelled the island every two days.
His father, a sergeant in the nationalist forces on Matsu, was nearly killed in one barrage, and a neighbor was decapitated by an artillery shell that slammed into his house, the colonel said.
Col. Chen said the Taiwan military must maintain its combat readiness as long as the threat of conflict with China is present.
Some other military officers are not so sure about their mission and currently are confused by the war-vs.-peace stance of Taiwan.
"A lot of us are unsure whether the Chinese are our friends or our enemies," one colonel told the English-language Taipei Times newspaper.
On Kinmen, one island resident has found a unique way to profit from the past conflict. At a small factory, Tseng-dong Wu makes use of some of the estimated 1 million rusted artillery shells that were fired by the communists until the barrages ended in 1960. He cuts them into pieces with a blowtorch, sticks them in a foundry fire and pounds them into knife blades and cutlery that he sells in his shop.

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