Jun 11, 2008

Taiwan: Delegation Arrives in China

Active ImageA Taiwanese delegation arrived in China to discuss further expansion on charter flights between China and Taiwan.

Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune:

A Taiwanese delegation arrived in Beijing on Wednesday [11 June 2008] for talks on expanding charter flights between Taiwan and China — the first formal discussions between the sides since 1999. 

The 19-member Taiwanese team is being led by Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation, and includes two vice Cabinet ministers — the highest-ranking Taiwanese officials ever to participate in bilateral talks.

Before leaving Taipei, Chiang said he was well aware of the historic nature of his mission. 

"Our most important goal is to promote peace," he told reporters at Taipei's international airport.

Chiang waved to reporters at Beijing airport, but drove off in a motorcade without making an arrival statement.  

Taiwan and China, which split amid civil war in 1949, set up the dialogue mechanism in the early 1990s, agreeing to set political differences aside in favor of boosting economic ties and private exchanges. 

China stepped away from talks in anger over steps by Taiwan to shore up its independent identity. Beijing insists the island is Chinese territory to be reunified with by force if necessary.

While most Taiwanese oppose political union, many favor closer economic cooperation with the mainland, which has already absorbed more than US$100 billion in Taiwanese investment over the past 15 years. 

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou won election in March [2008] largely on his promises to reinvigorate Taiwan's economy by hitching the island's wagon to China's economic juggernaut. Chiang's delegation is seen as the first step in fulfilling that pledge. 

The 75-year-old economic planner said Tuesday [10 June 2008] he expected to sign an accord opening the way for 36 charter flights to cross the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait every weekend. Taiwan has banned direct scheduled flights since the 1949 division. 

The expanded flights will be enough to shuttle several hundred thousand Chinese tourists to Taiwan every year — below Ma's target of 1 million, but far above the current level of about 80,000. 

Charter flights are now limited to four annual Chinese holidays, when they are packed with Taiwanese residents on the mainland returning home to visit family. Ma wants to gradually expand the charter schedule and supplement it with regularly scheduled flights by the summer of 2009.