Taipei is picking an unnecessary fight
Refusal to allow extra flights between the mainland and Taiwan during the busy Lunar New Year period only serves to antagonise Beijing
The Lunar New Year is a time when many among the more than 200,000 Taiwanese businesspeople, their families and students living or working on the mainland join the mass return home for family reunions. In this regard, they have benefited from more air links under closer ties between Beijing and Taipei forged under Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing-wen’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou.
Sadly, without a change of heart from Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party government, many face disappointment this year. They are among at least 50,000 planning to return home who are affected by refusal of permission for the mainland airlines China Eastern and Xiamen Air to fly 176 extra cross-strait flights.
Taiwan’s navigation and aviation authority has cited safety and security concerns following a row over Beijing’s launch of new flight routes without consulting Taipei, including one that passes close to the line dividing the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and the mainland. But Beijing has rebuffed objections, saying the space separating routes over the strait exceeds what is mandated internationally.
Tsai faces criticism by pro-independence elements that the frequency of direct mainland-Taiwan flights compromises Taiwan’s security. But her hardline stand does not reflect the spirit of a positive note in her inauguration address in 2016, in which she failed to recognise the 1992 consensus on the one-China principle. She said both sides must cherish the results of more than 20 years of negotiations and interaction, which by implication includes the thaw forged under her Kuomintang predecessor.
It raises the question of what Taipei thinks it stands to gain. Amid internal party criticism of Tsai by the so-called deep-green camp, which thinks she has been too soft on the question of independence, it seems an attempt by Tsai to placate this faction that defies logic, given the military imbalance between the two sides. It is also bound to aggravate fragile cross-strait relations by antagonising Beijing. Tsai has been right to emphasise the importance of structural economic reform and restoring hope to young people. Ultimately, these goals depend on constructive relations with the mainland.