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Beijing Receptive to Direct Flights Between Mainland and Taiwan

Chinese state media reported Monday that Beijing will consider allowing non-stop flights between Mainland China and Taiwan. The proposal could end a 55-year ban on direct travel between the political rivals.

China says it wants to promote direct charter flights across the Taiwan Strait in time for the Chinese New Year holiday, which starts February 9.

A spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office told state media Monday that the government hopes Taipei will agree to talks on the issue.

Dr. Huang Wei-fang, the vice chair of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, told VOA that the Taiwanese side was eager to proceed with the talks. "The timing is very short and we only have one month, so we already decided to dedicate our authority to the Taipei Airline Association to carry out the negotiations with Mainland China," he said.

Direct, non-stop flights have been banned since 1949, when the Chinese Nationalist government fled to Taiwan after its defeat by the Communists.

Beijing claims Taiwan as a part of China and has threatened to invade the island if the Taiwan government declares formal independence - a major source of tension in the region.

Previous attempts to establish air links across the strait have collapsed over Beijing's insistence that Taipei accept the so-called "one China policy."

In 2003, six Taiwanese carriers were allowed to run chartered flights between Taiwan and Shanghai for the New Year holiday, but they had to make token stops in Hong Kong or Macau. The flights were not allowed in 2004.

In normal times, travelers from Taiwan to the mainland have to fly to Hong Kong or Macau and then change to a foreign airline for the final leg of the trip.

Monday's announcement comes a week after Taiwanese business leaders urged Beijing to drop its political demands and allow direct commercial flights.

Businessmen have played key roles in cross-strait relations in the past.

Koo Chen-fu, a leading Taiwanese industrialist, was head of Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation. In 1993, he held a face-to-face meeting in Singapore with Wang Daohan, a mainland counterpart, to discuss relations between the two sides. It was the first formal contact between China and Taiwan since the end of the 1949 civil war. The two men met again in Shanghai in 1998.

Mr. Koo died of cancer early Monday morning. He was 87 years old.