Taiwan, China launch regular cross-strait flights

September 1st, 2009 - 1:15 am ICT by IANS  

Taipei/Beijing, Aug 31 (DPA) Taiwan and China launched regular direct flights Monday, ending Taipei’s six-decade ban on air links with the mainland imposed at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
Taiwan and Chinese airlines will operate a total of 270 round-trip flights per week, up from the current 108 charter flights. Chinese airlines will fly to eight destinations in Taiwan, while Taiwan airlines will service 27 cities in China.

On the first day, 44 flights crossed the Taiwan Strait, including nine round-trip journeys between Taiwan and Shanghai.

Taiwan did not hold launch ceremonies as the island is mourning the nearly 700 people killed by typhoon Morakot earlier this month.

China planned celebrations at six airports, but canceled them to protest Taiwan approving a visit by the Dalai Lama to bless the typhoon victims.

Chinese state media gave only low-key coverage to the launching of the direct flights as it continued to denounce Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for inviting the Dalai Lama.

China canceled the visit to Taiwan by the Bank of China officials, and downgraded the Fifth Taiwan Week held in Dandong, Liaoning province, and appointed a lower-level official to head the Shanghai delegation to Taiwan, cable TV channel CTI reported.

To minimise the damage to relations caused by the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit, Taiwan canceled his second prayer meeting for typhoon victims, scheduled to be held Thursday.

The Dalai Lama arrived Sunday night for a four-day visit.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of promoting independence for Tibet, while he maintains he only wants greater autonomy for the region.

China accused the DPP of plotting the visit to sabotage Taipei-Beijing ties, which have been improving rapidly since President Ma Ying-jeou took office last year.

China still regards Taiwan a breakaway province awaiting reunification.

The launch of regular flights marks a milestone in Taiwan-China ties. Previously Taiwanese going to China had to change flights, usually at Hong Kong, while Chinese citizens were not allowed to visit Taiwan.

As cross-strait tension began to thaw, Taiwan and China launched holiday charter flights in 2003, which were expanded to weekend charter flights in July 2008 and upgraded to daily charter flights in December.

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