China, Taiwan sign historic deals on travel

China and Taiwan signed historic agreements on Friday that from next month will see thousands more people travel every day between the two rivals.

China, Taiwan sign historic deals on travel
China and Taiwan signed a landmark deal on Friday to launch regular flights between the long-time rivals as politics was put aside in favour of practicalities in the first such talks in almost a decade.

Apart from special holidays, there have been no regular direct flights since 1949, when China's defeated Nationalists fled to the island amid civil war with the Communists.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled and democratic Taiwan ever since and has pledged to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary.

But the election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who won by a landslide in March on pledges to boost the local economy by improving trade with China, has suddenly warmed relations.

Though political issues such as letting Taiwan join international bodies like the World Health Organisation were not officially on the agenda, Taiwan's chief negotiator P.K. Chiang said he did bring up such questions.

"The question of international space does not take second priority to the normalisation of trade ties," Chiang told a news conference in Beijing.

"In fact, yesterday I had the opportunity to express our hopes. But at present I'm not able to tell you details."

Chiang will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao later on Friday.

"We will certainly demand respect and equal treatment. It does not matter what the topic is. The final aim is peace and joint prosperity," Chiang said.

Still, both Beijing and Taipei will be pleased to have signed the flights agreement.

"This is good for Ma Ying-jeou because he wants to deliver in his first 100 days," said Joseph Cheng, political science professor at City University of Hong Kong.

"Beijing is eager to win the hearts of the Taiwan people."

Market boost

Goldman Sachs forecast Taiwan GDP growth to slow to 4.5 percent this year from 5.7 percent in 2007, but to rise to 4.8 percent next year "as the economic impact from the progress on cross-Strait policies comes to fruition".

The Taiwan dollar rebounded against the U.S. currency on Friday. Taiwan stocks were up just 0.45 percent.

Chinese shares in Xiamen International Airport, which is located in Fujian province across from Taiwan and could benefit from air links, jumped 5.32 percent on Friday morning in a weak overall market.

But shares in Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, which had been a major beneficiary of travellers being forced to transit in the territory, were down 2.2 percent at midday.

The first flights, limited for now to weekend charters, will start on July 4 and Taiwan media said the first Chinese tour groups to Taiwan would start arriving from July 18, two key election pledges of China-friendly Ma.

As many as 3,000 China tourists, the number Ma first proposed, could come to the island per day, Taiwan media said.

China's Xinhua news agency said service would include 36 return flights for every weekend, from Friday to Monday, and the number would increase according to demand.

Mainland and Taiwan airlines would operate 18 flights each.

"It's a very positive step forward," said Taiwan businesswoman Natasha Lai. "Before, we were not able to travel directly for business or pleasure. Now to see our sentiment reciprocated on the other side is great."

Talks between China and Taiwan had been broken off for almost a decade, with Beijing refusing to deal with pro-independence then President Cheng Shui-bian.

Ma hopes letting Chinese tourists visit can boost the island's economy, while opening direct flights will save time and money for the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who live and work in China and now have to fly via Hong Kong or Macau.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Haziran 2008, 13:18
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