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China-Taiwan Agree on First-Ever Direct Flights

China and Taiwan have agreed to allow direct commercial flights for a limited time between their territories for the first time in 55 years. The move is expected to ease tensions in one of Asia's most contentious political disputes.

This Chinese Lunar New Year, residents of mainland China and Taiwan will be able to complete a journey that has not been possible for the past 55 years.

For a limited time surrounding the holiday, China and Taiwan will allow landmark direct commercial flights between some cities on the Communist Chinese mainland and the democratic island of Taiwan.

Between January 29 and February 20, 24 round-trip flights will connect the mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with the Taiwanese cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung.

All flights are required to pass through Hong Kong airspace but will not have to land. At present, all flights between the two regions have to stop-off at a third destination, adding hours to a short trip.

The deal came Saturday in the Chinese Special Administrative region of Macau.

Michael Lo, Chairman of the Taipei Airlines Association, was one of the principal negotiators for the agreement. He says opinions were exchanged and an agreement was reached fairly quickly.

Taiwan has banned direct transport links since 1949, when the Nationalist Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communist Party.

China regards the independently-ruled island of Taiwan as part of its territory and insists Taiwan must not declared formal independence and must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

But business ties are flourishing despite the political rift.

The temporary deal to allow direct flights between China and Taiwan could help to lift tension between the two sides, which has been rising since independence-minded Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected in March 2004.