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 Sunday, 26 January, 2003, 02:48 GMT
Historic Taiwan flight lands in China
A China Airlines Boeing 737-800 takes off from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in Taiwan
There have been no direct Taiwan-China flights in 50 years
Taiwan's largest airline, China Airlines, has made history by becoming the island's first carrier to land in mainland China in more than 50 years.

The charter flight arrived in the Chinese city of Shanghai via Hong Kong at 0852 (0052 GMT), where it picks up Taiwanese who want to travel back home to celebrate the lunar New Year holiday.

I will see the first flight from Taipei land in Shanghai. I really hope things will change for good in the right direction

John Chang
Taiwan opposition politician

People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have not been able to legally fly or sail across the 160-kilometre-wide (100-mile-wide) body of water since Taiwan and China split amid a bloody civil war in 1949.

Taiwan has banned direct flights, fearing that China might use the transport links to launch a sneak attack on the island. Beijing has repeatedly threatened to use force to unify the two sides.

The island's government says this is a one-off experiment and the flights must still transit in Hong Kong or Macau, so what could be a short journey will take almost five hours.

But there are hopes the flights may nonetheless herald some improvement in relations between Taiwan and China, says the BBC's Taipei correspondent, Damian Grammaticas.

The flight was the first of 16 - some of which will be operated by Taiwan's other airlines - that have been arranged from 26 January to 9 February.

Lucrative links

As hostilities have cooled off in recent years, business ties in particular have brought the two sides closer.

Taiwan estimates that Taiwanese have invested US$100bn in China.

There are also about 500,000 Taiwanese on the mainland on any given day.

A new Taiwan-China route would prove extremely lucrative for the airlines.

Red-letter day

Legislator John Chang of the Taiwanese opposition Nationalist Party first proposed the idea of one-off indirect charter flights across the Taiwan Strait.

"I will see the first flight from Taipei land in Shanghai. I would imagine it to be like the first swallow telling people that springtime is not distant," he said.

"I really hope things will change for good in the right direction."

The two countries have been long preparing for the much anticipated flight.

Taiwanese television has been profiling Captain Chun Pei-pei, the woman at the controls.

At Shanghai and Taipei airports, the flight used the arrival gates reserved for heads of state and honoured guests.

And special airline menus have been created, including delicacies like lobster, while all the pilots have been training on simulators to get used to landing at Shanghai's airport.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Damien Grammaticus
"These flights are a one off"
See also:

25 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
24 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
08 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
31 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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