Mainland commercial planes will land and take off on Taiwan for the first time in 56 years this month under a landmark agreement on direct cross-Straits charter flights for the upcoming Spring Festival.
While business circles and mainland-based Taiwan business people expressed their delight with the deal, Taiwan studies experts hailed its potential significance for improving cross-Straits ties.
After a 2-hour meeting in Macao on Saturday, civil aviation negotiators from both sides reached a consensus on launching the two-way, non-stop charter flights.
Planes will take off beginning January 29, with flights continuing through February 20.
The agreement allows six mainland and six Taiwanese airlines to operate a total of 48 round-trip charter flights to carry mainland-based Taiwanese business people home and back during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
The charter flights will be the first direct air links across the Taiwan Straits since Taipei banned transport, trade and postal links between the mainland back in 1949.
Taiwanese negotiator Lo Ta-hsin, chairman of the Taipei Airlines Association, told reporters the charter planes will not fly directly across the 160-kilometre Taiwan Straits, but will pass through Hong Kong air space. They will not have to touch down there, however.
Pu Zhaozhou, head of the mainland delegation and executive director of the China Civil Aviation Association, said the flights will connect the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou with Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan.
The charter flights, however, are allowed to carry only Taiwanese business people working on the mainland and their relatives this Spring Festival, which falls this year on February 9.
About 1 million Taiwanese business people and their family members are estimated to work and live on the mainland and hundreds of thousands of them typically return to the island for the holiday.
This year's model for "non-stop, round-trip, multi-destination flights by carriers on both sides" contrasted with an indirect charter flight program in 2003.
Then, only six Taiwanese airlines were allowed to operate 16 charter flights, with an inconvenient stopover in Hong Kong or Macao.
Wu Nengyuan, director of the Institute of Modern Taiwan Studies at the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences, spoke highly of the cross-Straits agreement's "positive impact" on bilateral relations.
"The direct charter flight deal has fully demonstrated the inevitable trend of close personal exchanges and economic links across the Straits," he said.
"It may, to some degree, help check Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's attempt to cut off cross-Straits bonds in a bid to alienate the island from the mainland."
The researcher noted that the mainland's pragmatic and flexible attitude during the talks had contributed to reaching the agreement.
"It suggests that there always will be potential opportunities for improving cross-Straits ties, as long as both sides are willing to show sincerity," Wu said.
But he cautioned that the current stalemate in cross-Straits relations will not be broken unless Chen abandons his "independence" push.
Chen Kuo-yuan, secretary-general of Beijing Association for Taiwanese Enterprises, said that although the charter flight agreement should have come earlier, it is of great significance for both sides of the Straits.
Chen added he will be happy to take the historic flight by a mainland airplane to Taiwan for the first time in more than five decades.
"Given little time for preparation before the first flights on January 29, our association will coordinate other Taiwanese enterprise groups in neighboring Tianjin and Hebei to arrange the travel plans for Taiwanese business people," the secretary-general said.
(China Daily January 17, 2005)