Ma unveils plan to open island to mainland tourists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou has unveiled his timetable for direct transport and tourist links with the mainland by July 1.

In a meeting with a group of hi-tech business representatives in Taipei yesterday, the popular KMT politician said, if elected, he would make sure that direct weekend charter flights would be launched before July 1, and that regular direct flights would be possible before June next year.

'We would actively hold talks with the mainland side right after the presidential inauguration on May 20,' explained Mr Ma, who is running for president in the March 22 election against the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting.

Under his timetable, cross-strait charters would be operated on weekends before July 1 and on a daily basis by the end of this year before the launching of regular flights by the end of next year.

The opening of seven airports - including those in Taipei, Taoyuan in the north, Taichung in central Taiwan, Kaohsiung in the south and Hualien in the east - for direct flights would accompany the liberalisation of services.

The candidate of the mainland-conciliatory KMT said he would also open seven ports - including Keelung, Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Hualien - for direct shipping across the Taiwan Strait after the inauguration in May. The plan was applauded by Taiwanese airlines and businessmen, who have long demanded that the government remove its ban on direct transport and other links with the mainland.

Taipei-based China Airlines and its strongest rival, Eva Airways, both said they were ready to operate the flights as soon as the ban was lifted.

Mr Ma said that under his timetable, 3,000 mainland tourists a day would visit before July 1.

That number would swell to 5,000 in the second year, 7,000 in the third year and to 10,000 by 2011.

Visits by mainland tourists should be able to create 40,000 jobs in Taiwan in the first year and eventually 100,000 jobs.

The DPP government has been negotiating with the mainland for a year on regular charter and cargo flights and permission for 1,000 mainland tourists a day to visit Taiwan, but no further progress has been made, due mainly to the impending presidential election.

According to the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top mainland policy planning body, Beijing has been reluctant to carry on talks that started more than a year ago on the grounds that it does not want to give credit to the DPP government.

Mr Ma, who is leading his DPP opponent by at least 20 percentage points in the polls, also vowed yesterday to ease a much criticised cap that bars Taiwanese firms from investing more than 40 per cent of their capital in mainland projects.

He also promised to relax the restrictions on Taiwanese investments in sensitive and strategic industries on the mainland, including the hi-tech sector.

General Chamber of Commerce president Chang Peng-tsao welcomed Mr Ma's commitments but said it was more important that the plans could be put into practice. 'Things like this still need talks with the mainland,' he said.

Aides to Mr Hsieh said he had committed himself to expanding charter services in the three months after the election.

They said the DPP government had long agreed to open up the island for mainland tourists and the problem now was on the mainland side, which refused to carry on with the talks.

They also said the number of tourists should start from 1,000 a day to ensure that there were no security problems before increasing the number.