Taiwan, China launch direct flights
Jul 4, 2008,
Taipei/Beijing - For the first time in five decades, China and Taiwan launched regular direct flights on Friday, signaling a new direction in relations between the long-time rivals.
A China Southern Airlines plane departed from Guangzhou at 6:31 am with 100 tourists among the 258 passengers on board bound for Taipei where it landed at 8:10 am after a 1,124-kilometre flight.
China Southern Chairman Liu Shaoyong flew the Airbus A330 and said he was excited because Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family.
'It feels like coming home. But I still hope we can launch regular flights and I believe that will happen soon,' he told reporters at the Taoyuan International Airport outside Taipei.
Four other weekend chartered flights also took off Friday morning from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Xiamen. Altogether, approximately 760 Chinese tourists are on their way for one-week visits in Taiwan.
Taiwan also launched nine charter flights bound for China, carrying tourists, businessmen and an 'inaugural delegation' consisting of local officials to China.
In Beijing, a ceremony was held prior to the departure of the cross-Strait weekend charter flights and China's CCTV aired a special cross-strait charter flight programme to give live coverage of the launch of the charter flights and invited scholars to discuss Taipei-Beijing ties.
In Taiwan, the Tourism Bureau welcomed Chinese tourists at various airports with flowers, lion dances and firecrackers. The newly-renovated Taipei Songshan Airport greeted Chinese tourists with a photo showing Chinese President Hu Jintao shaking hands with Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan's ruling party KMT, in Beijing on May 28.
Wang Yi, director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that Friday marked a new beginning in the history of cross-Strait exchanges.
Many of the Chinese tourists arriving in Taiwan said they were overwhelmed by the welcome they received and hoped the restriction that Chinese tourists must visit Taiwan with as groups, not as individual travelers, will soon be scrapped.
The opening of weekend charter flights is part of President Ma Ying-jeou's package to seek economic cooperation with China and reduce the risk of war.
Ma, inaugurated on May 20, hopes that the weekend charter flights can be expanded to daily flights and eventually to regular flights across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan, seat of the exiled Republic of China since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, has banned direct sea, air and trade links with China since 1949, and has banned Chinese mainlanders from entering Taiwan.
The ban has forced people travelling across the Taiwan Strait to transit through a third place, usually Hong Kong.
China has repeatedly called on Taiwan to drop the bans to pave the way for Taiwan's unification with the motherland.
But Ma, while supporting economic integration with China, has rejected China's call for unification, saying conditions are not ripe for discussing unification yet.