Progress in Fujian may allay Taiwan's fears of mainland China

After 30 years of lagging behind the rest of China, Fujian Province is awake and alive and eager to become a leader in the national drive for modernization. So said Hu Ping, governor of the Louisiana-sized province across the strait from Taiwan, in an interview.

''We must carry out economic reforms, open ourselves to the outside world, and enliven the domestic economy,'' the governor said at provincial headquarters here.

Mr. Hu is himself an example of the new winds sweeping through the province since Deng Xiaoping and his reform-minded associates came to power in China, and especially since the campaign to appoint younger, more qualified officials began in earnest two years ago.

Mr. Hu has been in economic work for many years, but until last year he was the most junior of 10 deputy governors. In April last year, at one stroke, he was promoted to the governorship.

Fujian is particularly important in China's modernization plans because it is the mainland province closest to Taiwan. Significant economic progress in Fujian , China's leaders hope, will have a favorable effect on Taiwanese attitudes toward reunification with the mainland.

Most of Taiwan's citizens came originally from Fujian and many of them have relatives here. But, as Governor Hu pointed out in his interview, Fujian's proximity to Taiwan was one reason for its present backwardness.

Because Fujian was considered a frontline province, for many years the central government did not allocate it as much as other provinces in the way of economic development funds. Its ports of Xiamen (Amoy) and Mawei (Fuzhou) were blockaded by Taiwan forces operating from Jinmen (Quemoy) and Matsu islands.

Today Fujian, though still one of China's poorer provinces, is bustling. It is one of two provinces (Guangdong being the other) to which the central government has granted special latitude in economic decisionmaking.

In Xiamen, the government operates one of China's three special economic zones, where foreign investors have customs and tax privileges. Its innovative Communist Party first secretary, Xiang Nan, is close to General Secretary Hu Yaobang and speaks out frequently on the need for greater initiative and creative thinking by government and party officials.

''Poverty is an absolute fact,'' Mr. Hu said, noting that Fujian's per capita income is 80 percent of the average for all China.

''China as a whole is much less advanced than the industrialized countries of the West, and Fujian is even less developed than other Chinese provinces,'' the governor said. But Fujian has certain advantages, Mr. Hu went on.

First, ''We have a long tradition of being open to the outside world.''

Quanzhou was a bustling port as early as the 12th century. Marco Polo sailed home from Quanzhou. China's first steamship was built in Fujian in the 19th century, and its first airplane in 1919.

Second, Fujian is the homeland of about one-third of the approximately 20 million Chinese that Peking estimates live overseas, most of them in Southeast Asia.

''Since . . . (1978) and (Deng Xiaoping's) decision to open China to the outside world, many overseas Chinese have come back here to visit their relatives. They can play an important role in the development of our economy as a whole.'' Many of these Chinese went abroad and have become exceedingly wealthy.

Third, the confrontation between Taiwan and Fujian has lessened since Peking adopted a policy of seeking peaceful reunification.

''Xiamen is only 2,000 meters from (Taiwan-held) Xiao Jinmen (Little Quemoy Island), but you don't feel the threat of war,'' Mr. Hu said. Xiamen has a splendid natural harbor that it has improved to the point that it can take 50, 000-ton bulk cargo ships.

Mr. Hu did not say so, but the new civilian airports at Xiamen and Fuzhou and the construction under way everywhere in the province are the most tangible evidence that China is in earnest when it talks of seeking peaceful reunification with Taiwan. All these projects, many of which will take years to complete, are highly vulnerable to attacks from Taiwan's small but efficient Air Force.

Fourth, Mr. Hu said, Fujian has rich natural resources - huge forests, more than 65 of the 150 minerals found in China, huge hydroelectric potential, and excellent natural harbors.

Based on these various advantages, Mr. Hu said, Fujian is eager to bring in foreign investments, whether in joint enterprises or in other forms of investment. A number of promising beginnings have been made, notably Fujian Hitachi, which is a joint venture between the province and Hitachi of Japan, to produce TV sets.

Mr. Hu said he was particularly eager to promote American investment in his province. He is hoping to form a sister-state relationship with Oregon, which like Fujian is a coastal state with splendid forest resources.

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