Sun, Jan 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Is a model for air links at hand?

So it's been made official. There will be charter flights serving Taiwanese businessmen during the upcoming Lunar New Year. This time around, carriers from both sides of the Taiwan Strait will participate in providing two-way and non-stop flights between multiple Chinese and Taiwanese international airports. Equally, if not even more noteworthy, is the model of negotiation adopted, adding a third option to the models for cross-strait talks.

Both the Chinese and Taiwanese governments sent government officials to Macau for yesterday's negotiation, although they went in "unofficial" capacities. From the Taiwan side, Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) director-general Billy Chang (張國政) and CAA official Fang Chi-wen (方志文) led the delegation as "consultants" of the Taipei Airlines Association (TAA). From the Beijing side, Pu Zhaozhou (蒲照洲), the head of the Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) led a delegation comprised of three other Chinese government officials, although all four also went in "non-official" capacities.

This model of negotiation is somewhat akin to the so-called "2002 Taiwan-Hong Kong model" of aviation negotiations, under which representatives from the private sectors were joined by aviation government officials from both sides who participated in non-official capacities. The difference is that in that round of negotiations officials from the Mainland Affairs Counsel (MAC) also joined the negotiations in an "unofficial" capacity.

As for the model that was used to initiate cross-strait negotiations in talks between Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and his counterpart Wang Daohan (汪道涵), chairman of Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), that has become obsolete, especially with Koo's death.

Actually, the two sides gradually and tactfully reached consensus about the substantive model of the air links before yesterday's talks. The significance of the talks in Macau were not only to make the deal official, but also in the model of negotiation established. Many believe that this latest model of negotiations may very well be the model used for talks on more permanent cross-strait direct links.

Indeed, this model is the bottom line beyond which the Taiwan government must not go. Any further concessions risk reducing cross-strait talks to negotiations over "domestic affairs." While the government officials involved in negotiations went in "unofficial" capacities, they were government officials nonetheless. These aviation talks, practically speaking, cannot proceed without officials' involvement to begin with, since none of the issues being discussed can possibly be decided by members of the private sector. This demonstrates that cross-strait links are in reality international links and not domestic links. As for the flight routes agreed on yesterday, they are in fact international air routes from Chinese cities to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Taiwan. In this regard, the Taiwan government has not compromised the public interest.

The charter flights for the upcoming Lunar New Year are significant for several other reasons. Unlike in the 2003 flights, Chinese air carriers will also participate, passengers can board from both ends (the Taiwan side as well as the Chinese side), and the flights will be uninterrupted, meaning there will be no transit stops in either Hong Kong or Macau, although planes will pass through airspace of one of the territories. And for the first time ever, there will be Chinese aircraft bearing the People's Republic of China flag embarking and landing in Taiwan's airports.

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