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Chinese eager for links with Taiwan

Chen Ting hopes Taiwanese big spenders will roll into her nightclub. Liu Zunjing anticipates getting his hands more easily on the Taiwanese knives he sells, and Zhou Min envisions depositors lining up outside his bank.

Residents of the lively Chinese port of Xiamen are hoping for a windfall when Taiwan lifts a 51-year-old ban Monday and allows ships and people from two Taiwanese-controlled islands to travel to nearby China to trade, visit relatives or just have fun.

Beijing is unenthusiastic, saying Taiwan isn't going far enough with its "mini-three links," which will allow travel only to and from the island fortress of Kinmen, off Xiamen, and Matsu, 155 miles to the north off the southeast China coast.

Beijing would rather that Taipei lift all transport restrictions and allow ships, aircraft and mail to travel directly across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait that divides China and Taiwan's main island.

But Xiamen's business-minded residents nevertheless hope that once Taiwanese can cross over, albeit only from the outlying islands, they'll find the attractive, semitropical city's rustic charms, cheap shops and varied nightlife too much to resist. They hope that Taiwanese investment, already a pillar of Xiamen's economy, will skyrocket.

"The mini-three links are going to mean the Taiwanese won't have to sneak around. There are going to be lots more customers here and it'll be easier to get goods," said Liu, the purveyor of Taiwanese kitchen knives much prized by Xiamen residents.

Essentially, Taiwan is legalizing an already-bustling illicit trade that has gone on for years between Matsu and Kinmen, also known as Quemoy, and China. Both islands are much closer to China than to Taiwan itself.

Just an hour's drive from Xiamen, through dusty villages and sprawling banyan trees, shops at the Dadeng Island Taiwan Trade Market already offer an array of tax-free goods smuggled from Kinmen: bottles of fiery sorghum liquor, Taiwanese packaged foods and hair care products. Taiwanese stock up here on garlic, mushrooms, toys and fake Rolex watches.

And despite five decades of separation between China and Taiwan, reminders of Taiwan abound in Xiamen. Many Taiwanese migrated from the region around Xiamen over the past 400 years, and people on both sides speak a similar dialect. Billboards of Taiwanese companies that have invested in Xiamen's industrial zone line the highway from the city's new airport, and Xiamen residents watch Taiwanese television.

Taiwan, which once feared that opening direct links with China could compromise its security, now hopes that allowing contacts between its outlying islands and China will help smooth relations with Beijing. China regards Taiwan as a renegade territory, one that it may have to retake by force, and maintains a heavy military presence along the southeast coast.

Despite the tensions, China-Taiwan trade and investment has flowered over the past decade. Taiwanese have sunk $40-billion in investments in China, and some 2-million people visit each year.

Police, Muslims clash

BEIJING _ Police and minority Muslims faced off in eastern China this month in a clash that left six people dead, state media confirmed Saturday.

Several hundred members of the Hui minority traveled by car from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, to neighboring Shandong province, where they fought with police on Dec. 12, according to the official New China News Agency.

Six Hui were killed, 19 were wounded, and 13 police were injured, the report said, without describing either the clash or its cause.