Taiwan hopes to launch mainland flights on July 4

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am

The Kuomintang is targeting July 4 as the launch date for direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland and for the extension of yuan exchange services to the whole island.

The timetable was put forward by the KMT's working group on cross-strait trade and economic affairs, whose convenor is Chiang Ping-kung, chairman-in-waiting of the quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

News of its proposals came as it emerged that Mr Chiang has postponed a trip to the mainland scheduled for the end of this month.

The delay followed an announcement on Monday by Taiwan's president-elect Ma Ying-jeou that Mr Chiang would head the SEF, which leads Taiwan's negotiations with the mainland.

Hopes of a thaw in cross-strait ties have risen since vice-president-elect Vincent Siew Wan-chang took the first step to thaw the diplomatic chill between the two sides when he met President Hu Jintao during the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan on Saturday.

During their talks, he expressed Taiwan's desire for direct links and other co-operation with the mainland.

Mr Chiang denied yesterday that there had been a fixed timetable for his trip to the mainland. However, KMT legislator Lee Chia-chin, who sits on the working group, revealed that Mr Chiang was originally scheduled to visit the mainland on April 20.

Mr Chiang said he would make the trip across the Taiwan Strait before Mr Ma's inauguration on May 20.

He said he would go in his capacity as KMT vice-chairman to thank the many Taiwanese businesspeople working on the mainland who had voted for Mr Ma in last month's presidential election.

Mr Lee said Mr Chiang had delayed his trip because of the president-elect's announcement of his appointment on Monday.

'It was originally a vote-thanking trip but because of his new status now, a consensus needs to be reached within the KMT as to when would be the most suitable time for him to go,' Mr Lee said.

He said Mr Chiang would definitely visit the mainland before Mr Ma's inauguration because of the pressing need to organise direct transport links and other forms of cross-strait co-operation before July.

The visit, he said, would likely last around five days, and Mr Chiang would make stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Xiamen - places where the biggest numbers of Taiwanese businesspeople cast votes for Mr Ma.

Under the timetable proposed by the KMT working group on Monday, direct chartered flights would operate each weekend, from Friday to Monday, starting July 4.

In the first phase, it envisages flights departing from Taipei's Taoyuan airport and Kaohsiung for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen. The second phase would see flights operating from Taichung airport and Taipei's Songshan airport.

Holders of yuan can only change their money into the island's currency, the New Taiwan dollar, on Taiwan's outlying islands of Quemoy and Matsu. The working group said the service would go island-wide from July 4. Initially, individuals would only be allowed to exchange 20,000 yuan at a time. The cap would be increased later.

The group also suggested waiving the requirements on mainland visitors to supply proof of employment and travel on organised tours.

Mr Ma has said he aims to open the 'three links' - meaning mail, trade and transport links with the mainland - normalise relations and sign a peace agreement with Beijing.

On Monday the president-elect hailed the meeting between Mr Hu and Mr Siew as a success and said Beijing had responded positively to Mr Siew's suggestions. The meeting had 'greatly reduced' the difficulties associated with cross-strait issues.

High price

Hong Kong will lose out if Taiwan-mainland travellers don't need to transit

The amount Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council estimates the city will lose each year is, in Hong Kong dollars $3.75b