On a smoggy Friday in Beijing, simmering rivals China and Taiwan ended a nine-year deadlock in formal talks by agreeing to launch weekend flights to boost travel and trade between the mainland and Taiwan.
Direct flights between the mainland and Taiwan have only operated during a few festivals. “The resumption of talks signals a good start of the improvement and development of cross-Straits relations,” China’s president Hu Jintao was quoted saying after a symbolic meeting with Taiwan’s chief negotiator Chiang Pin-kun.
Since their split in 1949, China continues to claim Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory under its one-China policy. While these talks mark a nine-year landmark in building mutual trust, sensitive strategic affairs issues were not said to be on the table.
Efforts to boost trade between China and Taiwan gained momentum after the election of Taiwan's new president Ma Ying-jeou, who is targeting the entry of one million Chinese tourists to Taiwan every year.
Initially, up to 3,000 Chinese tourists per day could be allowed into Taiwan for 10-day stays. Xinhua said the weekend charter flights will start from July 4, with 36 charter flights for each weekend from Friday to Monday between five mainland cities and eight Taiwan destinations. The flights will be divided into 18 each for the mainland and Taiwan airlines.
Flights from Taiwan to Shanghai will be limited to a maximum of nine every weekend. Both sides also agreed to set up their first representative offices.
“It’s a positive step forward,” Reuters quoted Taiwan businesswoman Natasha Lai as saying. “Before, we were not able to travel directly for business or pleasure. To see our sentiment reciprocated is great.”
The talks were held through China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation. The agreement will initially apply to residents in 13 Chinese provinces and municipalities including Beijing and Shanghai.