80-minute journey ends a 59-year wait

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am

Fanfare in Taiwan at arrival of first daily direct flights and maritime cargo

Taiwan marked the historic start of direct transport links across the Taiwan Strait with much fanfare yesterday as the first batch of daily direct flights and maritime cargo services arrived from the mainland.

Four water tanks were used to stage a water-cannon show when a Shenzhen Airlines plane landed at Taipei's Songshan Airport at 8.40am yesterday, becoming the first direct transport link across the strait since 1949. Passengers were welcomed by a traditional lion dance.

Huang Ming-chih, head of the Taiwanese Businessmen's Association in Shenzhen, who was aboard the landmark flight, said his wait was finally over.

'I have dreamt of this for more than 10 years, and now the distance between home and office is just an 80-minute journey, meaning I am much closer to home,' Mr Huang said.

The journey was made possible after Taiwanese and mainland negotiators signed an agreement in Taipei last month to operate 108 daily direct flights a week and 60 cargo charters a month.

About 40 minutes before the Shenzhen Airlines flight's arrival, a Taiwanese aircraft carrying 144 passengers left the island for Shanghai. It crossed near a mainland flight heading to Taoyuan in Taiwan - although the two planes were kept 3,000 metres apart in altitude. It was the first time any commercial planes from the two sides had appeared on the same air route.

The new northern route allows planes from the two sides to fly directly into each other's air zones without having to pass through Hong Kong airspace, cutting flight times by at least 20 minutes.

Taiwan and the mainland agreed on 36 weekend charter flights in June, an important step leading up to yesterday's complete resumption of transport links. But those weekend charter flights still had to go through Hong Kong airspace - even though they were no longer required to land in Hong Kong or Macau.

The newer agreement, which was signed in November, allows aircraft flying to and from the mainland's north and east to avoid passing through Hong Kong airspace.

Flights to or from southern China will continue to use the existing route, which passes through Hong Kong airspace.

Sixteen flights from the two sides made direct flights yesterday from nine airports - two in Taiwan and seven on the mainland.

The two sides also signed three other agreements last month to that will allow direct shipping, direct postal exchanges and food-safety co-operation.

Six freighters from the island's three major harbours - Keelung in the north, Taichung in central Taiwan and Kaohsiung in the south - set off on direct shipping services at about 10am. Mainland freighters also arrived in Taiwan yesterday.

Taiwanese shippers have long wanted the government to lift the ban on direct shipping.

'This is good for us, and also for the development of Taiwan's economy. The government should have allowed direct shipping a long time ago,' said a crew member of one of the Taiwanese vessels that was leaving Keelung.

While the majority of the public welcomed the start of the direct transport and postal links, lawmakers of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party lashed out at the Kuomintang government for failing to get approval from the legislature to validate the four agreements.

'This is a total disrespect to the legislature, and a sell-out of Taiwan,' DPP legislator Lai Ching-te said.

A long time coming

January 1, 1979

Beijing publishes a proposal calling for transport, trade and mail links across the Taiwan Strait. It later expresses its readiness to hold consultations.

1989

Cross-strait postage begins to be sent reciprocally via Hong Kong. Taiwan allows telecommunications with the mainland via Hong Kong.

April 1993

The mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation sign agreements concerning registered mail and economic and trade co-operation.

April 1997

Direct flights to Taiwan begin from trial cities.

Early 2001

Sea passengers and cargo air routes open in the Taiwanese-controlled islands of Quemoy and Matsu and the mainland province of Fujian.

2003

The mainland permits Taiwanese airlines to fly aircraft via Hong Kong or Macau to Shanghai over the Lunar New Year.

2005

Airlines from both sides of the strait take part in twoway charter flights for the first time during the Lunar New Year. Aircraft must fly through Hong Kong airspace.

June this year

Both sides sign agreements on weekend charter flights and tourism. Weekend direct passenger services are launched from July 4.

November 4

Agreements signed in Taipei on issues concerning direct tax-free cargo shipping, cargo flights, increased charter flights, direct postal service and food safety co-operation.

Yesterday

The mainland and Taiwan officially launch the 'three direct links': direct air, sea transport and postal services, formally ending a near-60-year absence of such ties.