01/23/2006, 00.00
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Direct flights between China and Taiwan

Direct flights between the island and the mainland have been allowed for Chinese New Year, but more and more people demand permanent direct links.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Charter airline companies have been allowed to offer return flights between Taipei and Shanghai over the January 20-February 13 period to make it easier for people to travel for Chinese New Year celebrations. Many Taiwanese residents and business people are demanding the air links be made permanent.

The first flight by Taiwan's China Airlines took 2.5 hours to reach its destination before the plane flew back to Taipei carrying more than 300 people.

Before the direct charter flight it took between six to nine hours to fly to Shanghai, depending on how long they had to wait in transit stop in Hong Kong. The first mainland carrier is scheduled to leave Shanghai tomorrow.

An estimated 300,000 Taiwanese make the trip every Chinese New Year, which this year falls on January 29. Last year, direct charter flights were allowed on routes connecting Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in mainland China with Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. There were also direct flights in 2003 but only between Shanghai and Taipei via Hong Kong.

Political tensions across the Strait of Taiwan have delayed further opening as Taiwan continues to fear a direct assault by Beijing.

Despite deep-rooted political divisions—Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory, whilst Taipei wants to maintain its independence and fears a military invasion—, both countries want to increase "three direct links", i.e. direct mail, transport and trade.

Air China chairman Li Jiaxiang, head of one of the six Chinese airliners who along with six Taiwanese companies offer charter flights, said that with permanent direct links the traffic volume between the mainland and Taiwan would reach 5 million passengers per year. For the time being though, tickets for this year's New Year chartered flights are sold out. (PB)

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