China, Taiwan set for landmark talks on flights

China and Taiwan last spoke formally in 1999, before former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui enraged Beijing by describing ties as "a special state-to-state relationship".

China, Taiwan set for landmark talks on flights
Negotiators from China and Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing regards as its own territory, meet this week for the first time in nine years, but backsliding on the direct flights deal they are set to agree may cool the mood of detente.

Taiwan's top China negotiator, P.K. Chiang, will lead a team to Beijing from June 11-14 to negotiate with his counterpart, Chen Yunlin, following recent warm but informal meetings between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Taiwan leaders.

China and Taiwan last spoke formally in 1999, before former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui enraged Beijing by describing ties as "a special state-to-state relationship".

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

But China, which is keen to avoid diplomatic rows in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in August, is expected to take a conciliatory line this week.

"It's taken them so many years to meet, so I think talks between the two sides won't fail," said Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at National Cheng Chi University in Taiwan. "China doesn't want to see them fail.

Taiwan's independence-leaning main opposition party has appointed a team to monitor the talks, local media said.

New flights, more tourists

For Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office on May 20, the signing of a tourism and transit deal following talks this week will crack open his long list of campaign pledges to breathe life into the island's economy.

"There's no cause for any lack of optimism," said Corinna Wei, spokeswoman for the Taiwan government's China policymaker. "For the proposals we've made, there's consensus on both sides."

But the long-awaited deal to establish direct weekend charter flights and let Chinese tourists visit the island for the first time en masse -- the only allowable discussion topic this week -- may fall short of Ma's pledges trumpeted in the Taiwan media.

Taiwan's hospitality industry is retooling for Chinese tourists, from hiring extra tour guides to holding forums on how to handle Chinese people's expectations.

China wants to limit tourists to well-educated and high-income people to ensure their "quality", however, initially keeping the number below the 3,000 per day that Ma has pledged, said Chang Jung-kung, the ruling KMT's China affairs director.

The number of Taiwan airports involved in direct flights, which are designed to reduce time-consuming Hong Kong and Macau layovers, will drop from the eight reported earlier to four at first, because the others are not ready, Chang said.

There are currently no direct flights between the two rivals, except on major holidays.

Weekend direct flights, expected by July 4, would still fly through Hong Kong or Macau air space for security reasons, adding travel time, Chang said. Foreigners will not be allowed to board the planes.

A deal for direct cargo flights did not make the agenda, disappointing Taiwan, in part because China would gain relatively little from the of agreement, Chang said.

"These talks are pretty simple, just flights and tourists, and there won't be that many tourists," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taiwan.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Haziran 2008, 12:04
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