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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 08:55 GMT
China and Taiwan agree to flights
Air China jets at Beijing airport
Travellers between China and Taiwan must usually stop en route
China and Taiwan have agreed to allow direct flights between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland during the lunar new year holiday in February.

The charter flights, linking two cities in Taiwan and three in China, would be the first such services since 1949.

The idea was proposed by China following talks with Taiwanese opposition leaders.

Correspondents say it could herald an easing of tensions in one of Asia's most dangerous potential flashpoints.

The one-off deal was announced at a joint news conference in Macau.

Chinese negotiator Pu Zhaozhou said the charter flights would take place from 29 January to 20 February.

The flights from the Chinese mainland would leave from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, while China-bound flights would depart from Taipei and Kaohsiung, he said.

Taiwan has invested $100bn in China in recent years, but the countries' governments refuse to talk.

Previous attempts to run direct flights have faltered, notably in 2003, when charter planes were forced to divert to Hong Kong and Macau in order not to travel directly between China and Taiwan.

In the past, Taiwan has cited security concerns in the face of Chinese threats to attack the island.

Correspondents say that despite the political stalemate between the two sides, trade ties are expanding, with more than half a million Taiwanese businessmen estimated to be living in China.

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