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Mainland, Taiwan to start direct transport, postal services on Monday
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08:44, December 15, 2008

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For the first time since 1949, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan will begin direct air, sea transport and postal services on Monday.

Xu Shiquan, executive vice president of the National Society of Taiwan Studies, said the realization of "direct links" is a "breakthrough" in cross-strait relations and has "landmark significance".

"It will greatly boost cross-strait trade and civilian exchanges," he told Xinhua.

Taiwan-based Central News Agency reported Sunday that Taiwan leader Ma Ying-Jeou will attend a ceremony at Kaohsiung, one of the two harbors on the island, where the ships would sail out to cut across the narrow strait on Monday.

Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Honorary Chairman Lien Chan has left Taiwan for Tianjin in the mainland on Sunday morning to attend the ceremony at the harbor there next day.

"We have looked forward to this for many years," said Dennis Tien, general manager of the Taiwan-based TransAsia Airways.

Local airline companies had a bad business of flights in the island due to the development of expressways and high-speed railways, he said. "Now with daily charter flights to the mainland, idle crew and planes were put into use again. It really helps us survive international financial crisis."

Through the direct flights, the island will be able to benefit from the mainland's emerging economy and become an attractive gangplank between Western companies and the mainland market, said Bruce P.Y. Chen, spokesman with the China Airlines.

Direct transport, postal service and trade was totally cut off after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

On January 1, 1979, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, published a proposal to Taiwan compatriots, calling for opening up transport, trade and mail services across the Taiwan Strait.

After rounds of negotiations, flight, shipping and postal services across the strait were realized, but all had to go through a third place.

On Nov. 4, the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) president, Chen Yunlin, and Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman, Chiang Pin-kung, signed agreements on direct shipping and flights, as well as postal services during their first meeting in Taipei.

Under the agreement of direct air transport, the two sides agreed to launch a cargo charter flight service between two mainland terminals, Pudong in Shanghai and Guangzhou airports, and two Taiwan terminals, Taoyuan and Kaohsiung.

There will be 60 return cargo flights per month, evenly dividedbetween mainland and Taiwan airline companies.

In addition, the two sides will launch regular passenger charter flights, which used to occur only on weekends and the four major traditional festivals.

The mainland agreed to open another 16 terminals for passenger charter flights, besides the five already opened, while Taiwan has already opened eight terminals. The number of flights will increase to 108 every week, also divided evenly, with the number to be adjusted according to demand.

A direct flight from Taipei to Shanghai is only about 80 minutes but, under the current weekend charter flight arrangements, it takes two hours and 42 minutes as planes must fly over Hong Kong.

Tickets of daily charter flights were well sold in Taiwan.

"All tickets of our flights from Taiwan to Shanghai and Hangzhou in next week were booked and 90 percent of the flights to Beijing," said Chen.

Five Taiwan airline firms and nine mainland counterparts would operate 101 flights in the first week, according to Taiwan's civilaviation department.

Under the agreement on direct shipping, passenger and cargo ships, owned by mainland and Taiwan companies may sail directly across the strait subject to official approval.

The mainland will open 63 ports to Taiwan ships while Taiwan will open 11. The two sides might increase the number of ports based on a "developing situation," according to the agreement.

Under this circumstance, direct shipping will help the two sides reduce shipping time by 110,000 hours and transportation costs by 100 million U.S. dollars each year, said Hu Hanxiang, chairman of the executive council of the mainland-based Federation for Shipping Cooperation Across the Taiwan Straits.

Meanwhile, mail services including letters and parcels, express mail services and postal remittances, will also be available across the strait.

Professor Liu Guoshen of the Xiamen University said "direct links" across the Taiwan Strait will help reduce enterprises' costs and improve their competitiveness.

"Given the current situation of global financial crisis and sagging world economy, the direct links will help the mainland and Taiwan stabilize their economies," he said.

The mainland has been the largest trading partner of Taiwan since 2003, with annual trading volume surpassing 100 billion U.S. dollars.

Source: Xinhua

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