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China, Taiwan Start Direct Air, Sea, Postal Links

China and Taiwan have begun direct air, sea and postal links. The move Monday marks a historical milestone in cross-strait relations, after the two sides split following a civil war nearly six decades ago.

Tensions have run high between China and Taiwan, ever since the Nationalists fled to the island after losing a civil war to the Communists in 1949.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory, and has vowed to use force, if necessary, if the independently-governed island declares independence.

On Monday, this conflict was overshadowed by what officials on both sides refer to as the realization of the three links - direct flights, direct shipping and direct postal service.

The head of China's Postal Bureau, Ma Junsheng, spoke at a ceremony in Beijing.

Ma says compatriots on both sides of the strait are linked by blood ties. He says he believes that postal bureaus on both sides of the strait will work together and bring about a better tomorrow.

Lin Feng-cheng, vice-chairman of Taiwan's Nationalist, or Kuomintang, Party, also attended the ceremony.

Lin says having direct links is a big accomplishment that will benefit compatriots on both sides of the strait. The Taiwanese official acknowledges this has come late, but says it is still to be treasured.

Following the civil war, all transport by air and sea from Taiwan could only enter the Chinese mainland through a third place. But under an agreement signed last month, China will open 63 ports and Taiwan will open 11 harbors for direct cross-strait shipping. Also, there will be more than 100 weekly flights between the two sides.

The direct links reflect a marked improvement in relations that began with swearing-in of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. In sharp contrast to his predecessor, President Ma favors tightening cross-strait economic ties and moving aggressively to reduce tensions.