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China, Taiwan Restore Direct Air, Sea, Postal Links


China and Taiwan are launching direct air, sea and postal services for the first time since 1949, under an agreement reached in November.

Chinese state media say flights left this Monday morning from the cities of Shenzhen and Shanghai, on the Chinese mainland, for Taiwan. Meanwhile, a Taiwanese jet left Taipei for Shanghai.

Under the agreement, the two sides are establishing a cargo charter flight service and regular passenger flights, which used to take off only on weekends and during major festivals.

China's Xinhua news agency reports that Taiwan's postal chief opened direct postal links Monday by sending a letter to his counterpart on the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan's state-run news agency says Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will preside over a ceremony in the port city of Kaohsiung to witness the launch of direct shipping links, while a senior Taiwanese official will participate in a parallel event in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

The senior official, Lien Chan, met last month with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of an international meeting in Peru. Lien is honorary chairman of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist party and has been praised by China for his efforts to bring the two sides closer.

Officials on both sides of the Taiwan Strait say the direct routes will improve relations and sharply cut costs for travelers and businesses on the Chinese mainland and self-ruled island of Taiwan.

Direct cross-strait travel ended when Taiwan split from China in 1949.

China still considers Taiwan a part of its territory, and has threatened to take action if the island formally declares independence.

Since taking office in May, Mr. Ma has promoted closer ties with China.

Until recently, travelers usually had to pass through a third region like Hong Kong or Macau to get from the mainland to Taiwan.

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