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Beijing dreams of high-speed railway link with rivals in Taipei

[BEIJING] China is studying the possibility of a railway link between the mainland and Taiwan, the government's latest idea to use its high-speed train know-how to bridge a stubborn political divide.

The proposal for a transit link across the 180-kilometer Taiwan Strait to the self-ruled island was referred to only in passing in the draft of the 2016-20 development plan released on Saturday in Beijing. The document mentions the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, as a potential rail destination by 2030 and features a map of the train system, with a proposed rail line connecting the city with the mainland city of Fuzhou.

Even if such a project were technically feasible, it would face huge challenges politically. Taiwan and the mainland have been governed separately since Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and have occasionally exchanged fire over the decades, with China test-firing missiles into the strait in the mid-1990s. Although the two sides have seen expanding economic ties in recent years, Taiwan voters in January ousted the more mainland-friendly Kuomintang government in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said on Saturday that such a rail link would concern national security and public opinion and wasn't up to China alone, the Taipei-based United Daily News reported, without naming any officials. President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP's chairwoman, doesn't take office until May 20.

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China, which built the world's largest high-speed rail network over the past two decades, is trying to leverage its expertise to build diplomatic clout globally and in 2014 even floated the idea of a 13,000km link to the US via Siberia and Alaska. Such projects have faced political resistance from people wary of closer ties with China, with a proposed train link between Hong Kong and the mainland bogged down over concerns about stationing mainland immigration officers in the semi-autonomous city.  The draft of China's 13th five-year-plan proposed completing the rail connection between Hong Kong and Beijing by 2020. It also called for building a second link to the restive region of Tibet by the end of the next decade.