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Taiwan to Begin Indirect Flights to Mainland China - 2003-01-24

Taiwan prepares for landmark indirect flights to China this weekend. The move comes as Beijing calls for regular, direct links between China and the island to be established as soon as possible.

On Sunday, a Taiwanese commercial airline will for the first time fly to communist China - although not quite directly. The plane must stop either in Hong Kong or Macau, two of China's Special Administrative Regions with relative autonomy from Beijing.

Ever since Nationalists fled the mainland after their defeat by Communist troops in 1949, Taiwan has banned direct links out of fear for its national security.

But 16 round trip flights have now been scheduled across the Taiwan Strait to bring Taiwanese people living on the mainland back home for the Lunar New Year. The flights are being seen as an important step toward the establishment of regular, direct air links between Taiwan and China.

At a news conference in Beijing Friday, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Li Weiyi, welcomed the move. But he stressed that China would step up efforts to establish direct links with Taiwan in all areas: transport, trade and communication, as soon as possible.

Mr. Li says China is trying to make a breakthrough on regular, direct air links before the end of the year and he urged Taiwan to resume a formal dialogue with China.

He says the two sides can conduct talks as equal partners, about any topic, including "sensitive political issues," as long as Taiwan accepts the "one China principle."

Taiwan and China have been at a political stalemate because of a dispute over the island's sovereignty. China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and has not renounced the use of force to recover the island. But Beijing has gradually softened its rhetoric toward the island.