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Direct Flights Between China, Taiwan Scheduled for Major Holidays

Taiwan and China have agreed to launch regular charter flights between the island and the mainland during major holidays.

The landmark agreement was announced in Taiwan's capital, Taipei, on Wednesday.

Joseph Wu, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said Taiwan and China still have some differences over the normalization of air cargo and passenger services. But he said the two sides have agreed to open regular charter flights during major holidays.

Wu says six Taiwanese and six Chinese airlines will offer a total of 168 non-stop passenger flights during the four major Chinese holidays - the lunar new year, tomb sweeping day, and the Dragon Boat and the Mid-Autumn festivals.

He said he expects the holiday flight services to begin during the Mid-Autumn festival in October. The passenger flights will connect the Taiwanese cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung with Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Xiamen on the mainland.

Wu said cargo services and flights for medical and humanitarian needs would be authorized on a case-by-case basis.

Taiwan's government has come under increasing pressure to establish direct air links with China.

The island banned direct air and sea links to the mainland when the two sides split after a civil war in 1949. Taiwan has been self-governing since then, but Beijing regards the island as part of its territory, and repeatedly threatens to retake the island by force if it does not reunite voluntarily with the mainland.

Despite diplomatic and political tensions, however, economic ties between the two are thriving. China is Taiwan's most important investment destination and its largest market.

But the approximately three million Taiwanese who fly to China each year for business or sightseeing can only get there by traveling via a third location, usually Hong Kong.

Taiwan also wants to attract mainland tourists, but Chinese officials say indirect flights make the trip too cumbersome and expensive.

China and Taiwan first launched non-stop cross-straits passenger flights during the lunar New Year festival last year. Earlier charter flights had had to stop briefly in Hong Kong or Macau.