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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 08:08 GMT
Direct China-Taiwan flights start
Lion dancers perform as passengers board the first passenger flight from Beijing to Taiwan on Saturday
Chinese lions marked the occasion on a bitter Beijing morning
Direct commercial flights have resumed between historic foes China and Taiwan for the first time in 55 years.

Six flights from mainland China touched down in Taipei, and a Taiwanese airliner landed in Beijing on Saturday.

Dancing lions and dragons greeted the first flights to arrive on both sides, and beaming passengers said they hoped the flights would become permanent.

Taiwan has banned flights to mainland China for more than half a century for what it called security reasons.

Over the next three weeks, 48 flights are scheduled for the Lunar New Year holidays, also linking Beijing and Shanghai with Taiwan.

The resumption of the service marks a rare agreement across the Taiwan Strait, but underlying tensions between the two governments still remain.

Saturday's flights will have to pass through Hong Kong or Macau air space, but they do not have to stop there, slashing flight times by three hours.

'Taiwan in time for dinner'

The first flight to land in Taipei came from Guangzhou in China.

The 277 passengers on board were greeted by officials, Taiwanese lawmakers, and a huge crowd of reporters as they walked under an arch of red and yellow balloons after landing.

They mainly comprised Taiwanese business people and their families who live and work in China and are coming home to celebrate the Lunar New Year on 9 February, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar.

Taiwanese businessman Tony Chou hugs his son Chou Chi-huei, 7, at Taiwan's airport after the first direct flight - from Guangzhou on the mainland - touched down on Saturday
Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese people work in China

"We hope this historic flight can soon bring about regular air service so we Taiwanese business people can have lunch on the mainland and get back to Taiwan in time for dinner," businessman Wu Chien-chang told AP news agency.

At least 300,000 Taiwanese live and work on the mainland and until Saturday they have had to fly an indirect route back to Taiwan, changing planes at a third destination, a journey which is both time consuming and expensive, says the BBC's Caroline Gluck in Taipei.

Later Taiwan's biggest carrier China Airlines made its first flight to Beijing, landing nearly half an hour early, and five more flights arrived in Taipei from Beijing and Shanghai.

Taiwan and China remain political foes. Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, and it will not deal with the government of President Chen Shui-bian, who is traditionally seen as pro-independence.

However, economic ties are booming, says our correspondent. Bilateral trade rose to $70bn dollars in 2004, up by more than 34% from 2003.

While China downplayed the landmark flights, Taiwanese officials called them a historic milestone which could form the basis of future exchanges and talks between the two sides.

But they have also warned that plans by China to enact an anti-secession law aimed at blocking Taiwanese independence could jeopardise that opportunity and even prove a major setback to future cross-strait ties.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the landmark flights touching down in Taipei




SEE ALSO:
China and Taiwan agree to flights
15 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
China makes Taiwan flights offer
12 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing warns of war with Taiwan
30 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Storm across the Taiwan Strait
22 Jun 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Military balance goes against Taiwan
09 Mar 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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