He suggests a solution might be found by going outside the semi-official bodies The mainland and Taiwan should promote the realisation of direct regular flights across the Taiwan Strait through 'professional associations', Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao said yesterday. Speaking in a meeting with People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong Chu-yu, Mr Hu indicated that the two sides should seek progress on the issue without going through the two semi-official bodies now responsible for the handling of cross-strait ties. 'As the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait and the Straits Exchange Foundation are unable to resume talks at present, we should actively encourage professional associations on both sides to discuss issues related to the 'three direct links',' Mr Hu said. Although Mr Hu referred to the 'three direct links' - direct mail, trade, and air and shipping services - Taiwan and the mainland have had de facto direct mail and trade for years, but the island still bans direct flight and shipping services with the mainland. According to Xinhua, Mr Hu said realising the 'three direct links' was vital to boosting cross-strait personnel and economic exchanges, and realise common economic prosperity. In the communique issued after his meeting with Mr Soong, the Communist Party and the PFP agreed to co-operate on realising direct regular flights as early as next year. Yesterday, political analysts and business leaders in Hong Kong tried to play down the potential impact on the city should direct flights occur. Passengers flying between the mainland and Taiwan must disembark in Hong Kong, or another non-mainland destination, before continuing their journey. At Cathay Pacific Airways' annual general meeting on Wednesday, chief executive Philip Chen Nan-lok said direct cross-strait flights would have some effect on the airline. But he stressed Hong Kong's status as a regional hub would remain largely intact as passengers from the mainland and Taiwan would continue to connect to other destinations via Hong Kong. Cathay added seven weekly flights between Hong Kong and Beijing this month. Hong Kong Dragon Airlines operates eight flights a day to Beijing but has a code-share agreement that effectively increases the number of daily flights its passengers can take to the capital to 14. The airline declined to comment yesterday. Timothy Wong Ka-ying, a political scientist at Chinese University, said it would be 'too optimistic' to think direct flights would lead to cross-strait reunification. 'It is still a long way before reunification in terms of politics,' Dr Wong said.