It’s about time!
Per Mark McDonald at the International Herald Tribune: Shortly after dawn Monday, a passenger plane took off from Shenzhen, China, bound for Taiwan. The 80-minute flight across the Taiwan Strait marked the first regular cross-strait traffic since the end of the civil war in 1949 and another dramatic step in the improvement of relations between the two countries.
The Shenzhen Airlines flight from China – along with a later TransAsia Airways flight to Shanghai from Taiwan’s capital, Taipei – inaugurated regular direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China. Direct ship traffic and mail service also began Monday, state media reported.
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported that the flight from Shenzhen took off at 7:20 a.m. The TransAsia flight from Taipei left 46 minutes later. A total of 16 direct passenger flights were scheduled Monday.
When Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan, took office in May, he pledged to improve relations with the mainland, especially in trade. Beijing has largely welcomed the changes, although China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan. The countries signed agreements Nov. 4 to open the direct links that began Monday, and the improved connections were expected to benefit both economies through increased tourism and faster delivery of mail, parcels and remittances. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner.
As many as 108 direct passenger charters are due to operate each week across the strait, state media reported Monday, as well as 60 direct cargo flights a month. The flights will come and go from 21 cities on the mainland and eight cities in Taiwan.
Twenty cargo ships from both countries were scheduled to set out across the strait on Monday. Sea voyages are now expected to take four days, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily, about half the time of previous indirect routes.
Passenger flights have been flying between China and Taiwan since July, but not daily and not regularly – only tourist-group charters on weekends and holidays. Previously, nonstop flights have had to take roundabout routes through Hong Kong airspace. The direct flights cut flying time in half.
It was in July that ordinary Chinese citizens were finally allowed to visit Taiwan as tourists. Before then, only Chinese citizens who were permanent residents of a foreign country or those with special permission for business or cultural exchanges could visit the island.
The president of China Airlines, Taiwan’s largest carrier, was quoted by Bloomberg last month as saying the number of mainland travelers flying to the island could reach one million by 2010, up from about 300,000 last year.
Though some in Taiwan have objected to this policy, I always felt this would benefit the people in Taiwan far more than the people in China. I’d leave my condo in Taipei on a Sunday morning around 7 AM, grab the 10:30 flight to Hong Kong, spend two hours there and catch a flight to Shanghai. I’d arrive around 5 PM when if I could have flown directly, it would have been an hour and 15 minutes. The cost and distance prevented many Taiwan expats working in China from visiting their families except for the major holidays.
They used to call the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Shanghai or Beijing route the “Golden Route” because it was so profitable for the airlines but a huge cost (both financially and time wise) to the businessmen who had to make that flight on a regular basis. Cathay Airlines will lose a lot of business, but the Chinese and Taiwan airlines will see a huge increase in business.
Now that flights between Taiwan and most Chinese cities will be short and at a lower cost, do you think this will bring more Chinese tourists to the island? How long before Chinese businessmen can fly to Taiwan with easy visa entry? Will this help or hurt relations between the two?