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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

China, Taiwan OK direct holiday flights

Ching-Ching Ni Los Angeles Times

BEIJING – Longtime rivals China and Taiwan agreed Saturday to allow nonstop charter flights between them over the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday.

The arrangement marks the first time in more than five decades that a commercial aircraft from the mainland would be officially allowed to touch down on Taiwanese soil.

Under the deal negotiated in Macau, six airlines from each side would transport Taiwanese people working in China to and from the island during the busiest Chinese holiday season. “In a very short time, in a cordial atmosphere, we have come to an agreement,” said Pu Zhaozhou, executive director of China’s Civil Aviation Association.

Taiwan has banned direct air and shipping links to mainland China since Nationalists fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to their Communist foes.

However, since China opened its door to the outside world in the 1980s, Taiwanese in search of business opportunities and ancestral roots have flocked to the mainland and contributed an estimated $100 billion to the Chinese economy.

As many as 1 million Taiwanese now live and work on the mainland. An estimated 300,000 of them are expected to return to the island for the spring festival which begins this year on Feb. 9.

In the past, they have had to change planes in a third territory, typically Hong Kong or Macau, to make the trip across the strait separating Taiwan from the mainland. The journey is time-consuming and expensive.

Despite the booming business relationship, political tensions remain high. The island just re-elected a pro-independence president to a second term. China threatens to take Taiwan back by force if Chen Shui-bian’s government declares statehood.

The direct flights are seen as a positive step.

“Taiwan wants to show they are capable of maintaining peace and negotiating a deal with China,” said Chien-min Chao, a politics professor at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. “Beijing wants to present a goodwill gesture to the United States, the rest of the world, and especially the people of Taiwan, that it’s not always in a confrontational mode.”