Taipei's Refusal Dashes Hopes
Taipei's lack of sincerity and insistence on clinging to a political ideology could dash the hopes of setting up direct charter flights across the Taiwan Straits in time for next year's Spring Festival holidays, said a senior government source.

The source with the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) said Taiwan's rejection last week of the call for direct flights to and from the mainland, has cast a shadow over the plan's future development.

"We have to say that the possibility of introducing direct charter flights between the two sides has been dwindling due to Taiwan authorities' unilateralism and their hesitation to take any practical moves," said the source.

"The future development of the matter hinges on Taipei's sincerity rather than empty talks for the benefit of Taiwan compatriots, because time is running out."

He went on to suggest that Beijing does not concur in Taipei's latest proposal for indirect charter flights run solely by Taiwanese airlines. Last Tuesday, Taipei turned down the call from local lawmakers for direct charter flights to the mainland in the Chinese lunar New Year period, which falls around February 1 next year.

Opposition Kuomintang "legislator" John Chang had led the campaign to establish direct charter flights as part of a concerted effort to urge Taipei to lift its decades-old ban on the three direct links -- trade, transport and mail services -- across the Taiwan Straits.

The existing ban on direct transport links between Taiwan and the mainland means both cargo and passengers have to travel via a third location, usually Hong Kong or Macao, which is not only inconvenient, but also a waste of money and time.

Chang, the grandson of Chiang Kai-shek, proposed a total of 120 charter flights between Taipei and Shanghai during the traditional family reunion holidays to benefit the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese people living on the mainland.

But the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the island's top decision-making body on cross-Straits policy, rejected the proposal, which had received considerable support from both the local business community and lawmakers, citing security concerns.

Instead, the MAC suggested it might allow Taiwanese airlines to operate indirect charter flights via Hong Kong or Macao to bring Taiwanese businessmen and their families home, an operating right currently only applied to Taiwanese airlines.

The CAAC source said Taipei's attitude towards the direct charter flight proposal serves as an apparent sign that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration led by Chen Shui-bian is insincere about implementing direct cross-Straits links.

"First, what the MAC has proposed is not real direct charter flights across the Taiwan Straits, as most people had expected," the source said.

"Second, the MAC has failed to deal with the matter in line with the principles of equity and mutual benefit, since it has completely excluded mainland airlines from operating these flights."

He reiterated Beijing's stated position that the cross-Straits charter flights should be "direct, bilateral and reciprocal."

"Mainland airlines should also have the right to participate in the charter-flight business in line with the principle," the source stressed.

In another development, John Chang began his mainland visit yesterday to push for the establishment of direct charter flights, despite the rejection of his proposal by the Taiwan authorities.

Chang, together with representatives from six Taiwanese airlines, was scheduled to discuss with officials from the Taiwan Affairs Office and CAAC details of the proposed charter flights, according to Taiwanese media.

The CAAC source, however, said the planned discussion is just "an informal one" because Chang and his entourage do not have the authorization of the Taiwan authorities.

"No matter what decisions Taipei has made, the problems involved have to be solved through negotiations," the source said.

(China Daily November 22, 2002)