Beijing plans $242B freeway link to Taiwan

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Taiwan Strait

On Jan. 13, People's Republic of China Communications Minister Zhang Chunxian announced a major plan to enlarge the country's freeway system and link all of China's major cities. The project would cost about US$242 billion and take about 25 years to complete, according to CNN News. A certain portion of the plans, however, drew scoffs from both the Taiwanese government and the international press—plans including the construction of a freeway to the island of Taiwan, over 100 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

The freeway would have to overcome great odds. The length of the freeway, whether a bridge or a tunnel, would have to be much longer than any other in existence. The longest bridge in the world is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana, USA, which is 23 miles long. Interestingly enough, the second longest bridge will be the Hangzhou Bay Bridge in China; it will span 22.3 miles when completed in 2008. The longest tunnel in the world is the Seikan Tunnel, connecting the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido at 33.4 miles.

Besides distance, the bridge would also have to withstand the frequent typhoons and earthquakes that plague the Taiwan Strait. And, according to the Central News Agency (CNA), Taiwan's government funded news service, building a freeway across the strait would cause problems with the area's "Black Tides" and "marine trench".

The biggest obstacles to building the bridge, however, may not be with nature, but rather with politics. The Beijing and Taipei governments do not maintain any official ties. Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and breaks off political ties with any country that maintains political ties with Taipei. The PRC has even threatened to attack Taiwan if the island declares formal independence.

Currently it is not possible to travel directly from Taiwan to mainland China or vice versa; Taiwanese flights to and from mainland China are detoured through a third-party airport, usually Hong Kong, before continuing on. In spite of this, the announcement came at a time when representatives from Taiwan and mainland China are discussing possible direct flights—at least for the Chinese New Year.

Taiwanese leaders dismissed the announcement as propaganda. It was undoubtably seen by a few Taiwanese as an attempt on the People's Republic of China's part to annex the island.