Peace Pipe: China’s Plan To Pump Water To Taiwan

Courtesy of The Economist, a report on a Chinese plan to pump water to its rival, Taiwan:

Kinmen, a cluster of tiny islands two kilometres (just over a mile) off the coast of China’s Fujian Province, bears the scars of many a past battle. Chiang Kai-shek used the archipelago for his rearguard after Mao Zedong’s forces had driven his Kuomintang (KMT) from the mainland to Taiwan. China frequently lobbed shells at Kinmen, even up to the 1970s.

Now Kinmen is facing a new threat: a water shortage. Officials say that groundwater on its largest island is being depleted. Tourism from the mainland, which has grown rapidly since 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou, a politician friendly to China, was elected president, is putting pressure on its reservoirs. More than 220,000 Chinese tourists visited Kinmen last year to see attractions including anti-landing barriers and concrete bunkers.

Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Inc, a big local employer, may end up suffering too. The company, founded by a KMT general in 1952 to boost the troops, produces one of the most popular brands of Kaoliang, a fiery brew made from sorghum that is Kinmen’s most famous export. It relies on pristine groundwater.

Relics of bad times

Help is at hand from an old enemy. Kinmen’s water authorities are ready to sign a 30-year agreement with their counterparts in Fujian to buy water from Longhu Lake in Jinjiang city (see map). Taiwan is to build a submarine pipeline 17km long from Fujian’s coast to Kinmen at a budgeted cost of 1.35 billion Taiwanese dollars ($44m). After 2017, when it is scheduled to be finished, China will eventually provide up to 40% of Kinmen’s water. The signing is expected soon after a meeting on Kinmen on May 23rd between ministers from China and Taiwan, the first such encounter on the islands since the KMT’s flight from Mao.

When Taiwan’s parliament approved the budget for the pipeline in January, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports independence, made surprisingly few objections. Only the small, hardline Taiwan Solidarity Union voiced concerns about having such a large share of Kinmen’s water supplied by China. Pragmatists see the deal as the best way to boost Kinmen’s economy: piping water from China is much cheaper than using desalination plants. Taiwanese officials would be allowed to carry out inspections in China, such as testing water in the lake.

Such co-operation may be rarer in future. Since a drubbing in municipal elections last November, Mr Ma’s China-friendly KMT has been looking less likely to win next year’s presidential election. Victory looks even more remote now: just two candidates are now registered for the party’s primary; neither of them have much charisma. The KMT’s leader, Eric Chu, did not put himself forward before a deadline on May 16th. He had been regarded as the KMT’s best chance of beating the DPP’s candidate, Tsai Ing-wen.

Mr Ma, who is barred under the constitution from standing for a third term, has fostered the closest ties between Taiwan and China since 1949. But in the past few years the popular mood has changed. Many ordinary Taiwanese think his cross-strait business agreements secretive and of benefit only to the rich. Last year saw street protests and a three-week-long student occupation of parliament in protest at a trade deal with China. Should Ms Tsai win, tensions with China could rise once more. And though the pipeline would probably go ahead, other cross-Strait deals would be less likely to follow.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 25th, 2015 at 10:47 am and is filed under China.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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