Taiwan-based People First Party Chairman James Soong proposed at a forum yesterday the initiation of direct flights between Shanghai and Taipei as a first step to promoting all-round direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland.
Soong said the Shanghai-Taipei route is long called for, given the proximity of the two cities and the fact that the Shanghai region is the destination of more than 500,000 Taiwanese investors.
"We think a pilot Shanghai-Taipei direct flight link can be taken to promote direct flights across the Straits," Soong said at the opening of the Cross-Straits Non-governmental Forum of Elites. This practice can gradually be applied to other major coastal cities such as Shenzhen, he added.
Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) who also addressed the forum opening yesterday, responded to Soong's proposal positively.
He said the mainland would take "flexible, pragmatic and effective" measures to facilitate private negotiations on cross-Straits passenger and cargo charter flights.
"The key to a breakthrough in the issue is to realize direct passenger and cargo charter flights across the Straits," said Jia.
There are so far no direct shipping and air links between the mainland and Taiwan because of political stalemate. But a historic non-stop cross-Straits charter flight program was successfully operated for this year's Spring Festival holidays between January 29 and February 20.
In Soong's talks with Communist Party of China leader Hu Jintao in Beijing in May, both sides agreed to promote the direct charter flight to be a regular practice during public holidays, and work towards the realization of all-round direct flights in 2006.
"The realization of direct trade, postal and shipping links will bring tremendous economic benefits for the 1.3 billion people on the mainland and the 230 million people in Taiwan," said Casper Shih, chairman of the Taiwan-based Global Chinese Competitive Foundation.
"It will give Taiwan's economy an unimaginable chance of rejuvenation," he added.
The mainland has been working step by step to facilitate cross-Straits business and exchanges of personnel since Soong's visit in May and an earlier visit by the then Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan.
The mainland recently approved four Taiwanese airlines to use mainland territory for their flights to Europe and Southeast Asia, a move that will reduce their flight time and fuel cost.
Last week, the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office signed an agreement with the China Development Bank on providing Taiwanese businesses on the mainland with 30 billion yuan (US$3.7 billion) in development loans in the next five years.