Tue, Jan 11, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's almost time to pull the plug

Cross-strait charter flights for the Lunar New Year have not even got off the ground before running into turbulence. After the Taipei Airlines Association, the government's aviation representative, met Chinese officials in Macau to discuss the flights for the Lunar New Year, a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) delegation departed for Beijing to hold talks with officials of the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. The issue has given China another opportunity to exploit disagreement between the Democratic Progressive Party and the KMT.

No matter what the KMT delegation proposes or promises, and no matter what the Chinese officials say, the government should stand firm on national security and dignity.

First, Beijing has refused to negotiate directly with the government, as well as refusing to meet official and semi-official organizations such as the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Straits Exchange Foundation. China has placed the negotiations on a lower footing than those formulated for the "Hong Kong model" for flights between Taiwan and Hong Kong in 2002. With China setting the agenda, the result will be detrimental to the security, interests and dignity of Taiwan.

Second, the results of the "negotiations" run a real risk of contradicting government policy and doing more harm than good. The operation of these flights for Taiwanese businesspeople based in China is not something of value to most Taiwanese, but rather a concession out of good will to an influential but barely grateful pro-KMT minority. The government must therefore know when to cut its losses, pull out of the "negotiations" and cancel the deal. Trips home by Taiwanese businesspeople for the holidays are a private matter and should be arranged ahead of time.

This year, the flights are being used to promote the "Sinification" of Taiwan's economy and even government itself. It is a classic example of China using commerce for political ends, and using all-too-willing members of the opposition against the government.

Will the charter flights impact on Taiwan's security? It is possible that the flights this time will be "non-stop, round-trip, multi-destination flights by carriers on both sides," and as such the impact could be significant. Because the flights are no longer restricted to Taiwanese businesspeople, the result is direct flights in fact, if not in name. Once this door is opened, Taiwan could lose more industry and capital to China. If this happens, there will be nowhere to turn.

Since the Chinese government is now in a position to choose who it will discuss these details with, it can accelerate attempts to drive a deeper wedge between the government and the KMT, the latter still believing itself to be Taiwan's de facto government, though it should be noted that the People First Party has showed little enthusiasm for the KMT delegation's visit.

The government must be firm and clear on when to pull out. If the arrangements for the flights and China's propaganda impact on the safety and dignity of the nation, then the "negotiations" must stop immediately.

This country cannot sacrifice the security interests of the majority to serve the temporary convenience of a well-funded minority.

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