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China Calls for More Direct Charter Flights to Taiwan

Taiwan has barred direct air links with China since it split from the mainland in 1949, but relaxed its rules for the first time to allow charter flights from Chinese cities during the recent Lunar New Year holiday.

The ban is based on fears that Beijing might use aircraft to spy on or bomb the island, which China considers a part of its territory.

But Tang Yi, an official with the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, says China wants to see the direct flights experiment repeated. He told reporters Friday that China wants to talk with Taiwan on allowing direct charter flights during the qingming, or grave sweeping, holiday in April.

"As long as things benefit Taiwan compatriots, benefit the promotion of cross-strait exchanges, benefit the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait region and benefit the development of cross-strait relations and peaceful unification, we will exert our greatest efforts," he said.

The recent direct flights between China and Taiwan proved popular with travelers, who normally have to spend several hours waiting for connecting flights at transit points such as Hong Kong and Macau.

With cross-strait trade ties and investment rocketing, analysts say the need for direct transport links is growing.

Some politicians in Taiwan argue in favor of direct links, saying they are essential for the island's continued economic growth.

Senator Yih-Jiau Hwang of the opposition People First Party is among the more vocal proponents in Taiwan of lifting the ban on direct flights.

"It will greatly reduce the production costs for our Taiwanese businessmen," said Senator Hwang. "It is a matter of production costs. It is a matter of time. It is a matter of personal economy."

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when Chinese Nationalists fled to the island following their defeat by Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland. China has said it will reunite the island by force, if necessary.

However, the rhetoric has been toned down on both sides of the strait recently and Beijing's call for more direct flights was an example of what appear to be warming relations.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and James Soong Chu-yu, head of the People First Party, have just signed a joint statement vowing to seek cross-strait peace and pledging not to declare independence.

The slight thaw in relations comes despite fears in Taiwan about China's pending passage of an anti-secession law that some people fear may give Beijing a legal basis to attack the island.