Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Officials open to direct links prior to WTO

SHIPPING The head of the Mainland Affairs Council said that the opening of links could occur at any time and are not dependent on the the two sides entering the WTO


Taipei does not rule out the possibility of opening direct transport links with China, even before the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are admitted to the WTO, a senior government official said yesterday.

Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), chairperson of the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (陸委會), which charts Taiwan's policy toward the mainland, said that although Taiwan is tentatively planning to deal with the direct cross-strait shipping and air links issue after both sides join the WTO, it has not made WTO entry a prerequisite for the opening of such links.

"So long as China is willing to sit down to talk with Taiwan on relevant issues, we do not rule out the possibility of opening direct cross-strait shipping and air links ahead of WTO accession," Tsai said.

Stressing that direct cross-strait transport links involve many public authority-related issues, Tsai said the two sides must negotiate to hammer out mutually acceptable measures.

"For our part, we are hopeful that the two quasi-official intermediary bodies -- Taipei's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF, 海基會) and Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS, 海協會) -- can be authorized to discuss the direct transport links issue through their institutionalized communication channels," Tsai said.

Commenting on Beijing's claim that the opening of direct cross-strait trade, mail and transport links, commonly known as the "big three links," is an internal affair of China, Tsai said it simply reflects Beijing's unilateral stance on the cross-strait issue.

"Any concrete arrangements concerning direct cross-strait transport, trade or mail links require bilateral consultations and agreement," she said.

Taiwan unilaterally opened direct "small three links" (小三通) between its two frontline islands of Kinmen and Matsu and China's Xiamen and Fuzhou ports in Fujian Province from Jan. 1. Since China refuses to resume cross-strait dialogue, the "small three links" have so far not proceeded smoothly.

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