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Direct Links for Rivals
enorth.com.cn   2008-12-17 10:29


(Wall Street Journal)Taiwan and China on Monday launched the first daily direct flights and regularly scheduled shipping services between the two rivals, bringing to an end a nearly six-decade ban on regular links.

Investors and analysts for years have sought these improved connections as a way of boosting trade and investment across the Taiwan Strait. But the timing of the move -- amid a global economic slump -- could mean it will be less immediately beneficial than hoped.

[China Taiwan direct flight photo]

 Airlines from each side will be allowed to fly a combined 54 flights a week across the strait, like this Taiwan-bound Air China flight leaving Tianjin on Monday.

Still, the regular, direct links could lead to changes in the way Taiwan and mainland China view each other -- by removing an important psychological barrier that has kept the two apart since the Chinese Communist Party won China's civil war in 1949.

Some in Taiwan fear that a proliferation of such close links will lead to Taiwan's effectively being absorbed into China, something China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, would welcome.

China and Taiwan have allowed nonstop charter flights between the two on weekends. But all flights and shipping so far have been routed via the airspace and waters of third countries or territories.

Ending those diversions will allow airlines and shipping companies to save $140 million annually, according to Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which overseas policy toward China.

Airlines from each side will be allowed to fly a combined 54 flights a week across the strait.

Taiwan also hopes the direct links will attract more Chinese tourists and investment by China-based Taiwanese and foreign companies. Eventually, the government hopes, better ties with China could help turn Taiwan into a financial and transport hub in Asia.

China is Taiwan's largest export market. But the value of Taiwan's imports from China far exceeds the value of its exports -- estimated at $66 billion in the first seven months of the year -- to the mainland. Over the same period, 49 million Taiwanese traveled to China, compared with 47 million in all of 2007.

"The move, at least, allows Taiwan [air and shipping] companies to compete with their peers from fair position," said Peter Tzeng, shipping analyst at Taipei-based Polaris Financial Group. Still, he said, the benefits for the island are likely to be muted.

Now that "the ban is finally lifted, the global shipping volume has slipped dramatically," Mr. Tzeng said.


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Editor: Zhang Jialu

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