Page last updated at 04:38 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Daily China-Taiwan flights begin

By Cindy Sui
BBC News, Taipei

Flight from Shenzhen arrives at Taipei airport
There was a watery fanfare at Taipei as the first flight arrived

Taiwan and China have launched direct daily flights and cargo shipping, the first time in nearly 60 years that such direct transport links been allowed.

The two sides have been ruled separately since the end of a Chinese civil war in 1949.

In a landmark visit by a top Chinese negotiator to Taiwan last month, the two sides agreed to ease long restricted transportation.

The agreement allows up to 108 flights each week between Taiwan and China.

China and Taiwan are separated by a body of water just 160km (100 miles) wide.

But, because of tense relations between the two former rivals, flights and shipping routes have had to make detours through third countries or territories, usually Hong Kong or Japan to reach their destinations.

Now passenger flights from Taiwan and China will finally be able to fly directly to each side's cities daily, while cargo planes and ships will also no longer have to make long detours off their route.

Flight attendants from Shenzhen at Taipei airport
From now on, there will be more flights to more destinations
The opening up of Taiwan and China's airspace and territorial waters to each other will not only cut travel and shipping times, but the costs of doing business between the two key trading partners, which are currently suffering from the global economic downturn.

Under the landmark agreements signed last month, the number of passenger flights will also increase to a maximum of 108 per week starting this week, up from the previous 36.

And the number of flight destinations will increase significantly.

Presidential change

These direct transportation links were made possible after Taiwan elected a new President, Ma Ying-jeou, who took office in May.

Unlike his predecessor, President Ma does not advocate independence for Taiwan , and prefers to focus on improving relations with China, as a way of reviving the flagging economy and building long-term security and peace with China.

China refused to negotiate with Taiwan's last President Chen Shui-bian because he supported independence for the island, which Beijing considers its own.

Supporters of warmer ties with China see the lifting of transportation restrictions as a positive step towards ending decades of hostilities.

Critics, however, fear Taiwan will become too economically dependent on China and lose its sovereignty. Some of them participated in violent protests last month.

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