Taipei could cash in on improved ties with the mainland, mayor says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin believes the opening of cross-strait flights and mainland investments will rake in billions of dollars for the city, especially after the launch of a direct air link with Shanghai next year.

'If we want Taipei to grow better, direct flights are a key factor,' Mr Hau said yesterday.

He was referring to the opening of Songshan domestic airport as a direct flight point for Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Mr Hau said Songshan airport would operate cross-strait flights within a year following completion of facilities. 'After direct flights between Taipei and Shanghai are launched, not only will it help mainland-based Taiwanese businessmen to return to Taipei more often, but it will also encourage them to set up a base in Taipei.'

More foreign companies with mainland operations would be willing to pour further investments into Taipei because of the proximity.

Direct flights between Taipei and Shanghai would take just 45 minutes, compared with the three to four hours required to travel through a third city, usually Hong Kong.

Such a restriction will be removed soon after a government headed by the Kuomintang's president-elect Ma Ying-jeou takes office on May 20. Mr Ma has vowed to start direct weekend charter flights from July 4, with an ultimate goal of daily direct flights by June next year.

Mr Hau said he recently met Taiwan's incoming top negotiator with the mainland, Chiang Pin-kung, to ask about the feasibility of including Songshan in the first stage of negotiations over regular daily flights.

Mr Hau drew a rosy picture of Taipei, saying the opening measures by Mr Ma, who has vowed to engage the mainland to improve ties and bolster the island's economy, would greatly benefit the city. He said travel by mainland tourists would bring a fortune, while relaxation of mainland investment restrictions would allow Taipei to absorb major investments in its information and technology hubs in Nankang and Neihu.

Under Mr Ma's plan, the island will be opened to 3,000 mainland tourists a day.

Asked if he had any plan to visit the mainland, Mr Hau said Shanghai would be the first city he would visit.

He said Taipei had been invited to participate in the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and there was no doubt he would visit 'before summer' to discuss details with Expo organisers.

Mr Hau said it would be up to the organisers whether he met officials in Shanghai.

Taipei city government spokesman Yang Hsiao-tung, who also heads its tourism bureau, said he had discussed with officials from Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office the possibility of arranging for foreign Olympics travellers to stop in Taipei for a brief visit, cashing in on the direct charter flight service.