Sunday, January 16, 2005

Taiwan, China Clinch Deal on Direct Flights

By Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters, Jan. 15, 2005

MACAU (Reuters) - Taiwan and China reached a landmark deal on Saturday to allow non-stop charter flights over the Chinese New Year holidays, a move which could ease tensions between the bitter political rivals. The one-off deal will allow the first direct flights between the foes since 1949 and could mark a step toward ending a decades-old ban on direct air links.

"In a very short time, in a cordial atmosphere, we have come to an agreement," Pu Zhaozhou, executive director of China's Civil Aviation Association, told a joint news conference after talks in the southern Chinese territory of Macau. However, while the flights will be non-stop, they will still have to go through Hong Kong or Macau airspace. Forty-eight flights will be allowed under the agreement, beginning on Jan. 29 and ending on Feb. 20, Pu said. He did not specify whether the first would take off from China or Taiwan.

Taiwan has banned direct air and shipping links with the mainland since the Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war to the communists in 1949 and fled to the island. Travellers between Taiwan and the mainland must now fly via a third destination, usually Hong Kong or Macau on China's southern coast, adding four hours to what should be an hour-long flight. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to invade the self-governing, democratic island of 23 million people if it formally declares statehood. Taiwan officials responded positively to the agreement and expressed hope that the flights could mark the beginning of greater interaction with its giant neighbor after years of stalled talks.

"We hope that the smooth negotiations on New Year charter flights will pave the way for further cross-strait talks, and be a turning point for positive interaction," Joseph Wu, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council told reporters in Taipei. Wu, whose council charts the government's China policy, said the successful outcome of the discussions guided by the government and assisted by the private sector, had formed a basis for mutual trust between the two sides.
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