Sat, Feb 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

So much for 'historic' moments

By Huang Tien-lin 黃天麟

The Lunar New Year cross-strait charter flights got off the ground on Jan. 29. The headline in the Taiwan Daily said "Regular cross-strait flights around the corner," while the China Times used nine pages to cover every aspect of the event. Airports on both sides of the Taiwan Strait arranged a series of events, and the red Chinese flag was raised at Taoyuan International Airport, as if Taiwan was going through yet another "retrocession."

"This is a historic moment," said an excited Billy Chang (張國政), director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

The younger generations didn't experience a similar historic moment 60 years ago, when 6 million people were welcoming new arrivals. Then it was the 62nd Army, and now it is Taiwanese doing business in China. The 62nd Army brought the 228 Incident and 38 years of martial law. I wonder what the businesspeople will bring?

It is true that history keeps repeating itself, maybe because of an innate human inability to learn from it. In 1987, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government followed up on a Democratic Progressive Party initiative and lifted the ban on people from Taiwan visiting relatives in China. The government stressed that the lifting of the ban was restricted only to visiting relatives, and that using that as a pretext for any other activity would be met with severe punishment.

But many things that were not allowed in Taiwan were permitted abroad, and so opening a small door was in fact tantamount to opening the floodgates: Visiting relatives soon developed into tourism, and tourism developed into investment -- China fever is a fact.

Similarly, although the Mainland Affairs Council said that the charter flights would only be open to Taiwanese businesspeople, even Filipino housemaids were able to board. Council officials can't be so stupid that they did not anticipate this result. The reasoning of travellers was, "If it is OK for Taiwanese businesspeople, then why wouldn't it also be OK for overseas students; if it is OK for overseas students, then why wouldn't it be OK for Filipino housemaids?"

Following this line of reasoning, if Lunar New Year's charter flights are OK, then why wouldn't flights on other holidays be OK? If flights on holidays are OK, then why not flights on normal days? Like Chang said: "Regular cross-strait flights are just around the corner."

There were reports that when the China Southern flight landed in Taoyuan at 9:27am on Jan. 29, applause and shouts of welcome broke out in the waiting room, where everyone present celebrated these ice-breaking flights.

But we should not let anyone forget that when the 2,160m-long bridge on Penghu Island was opened 37 years ago (connecting Hsiyu with the two other main islands of Penghu, cutting travel time from Hsiyu to Makung to half an hour), both the government and public celebrated, saying that the project would open the door for the development of Hsiyu.

Today the island is as desolate as ever, and the population has been reduced by half.

In August 1979, the opening of Makung airport was met with anticipation by residents and businesspeople alike. The champagne flowed and it was said to be a historic moment for Penghu. From that moment on, Penghu residents could fly directly to Taipei and Tainan, and everyone thought that Penghu's becoming the Pearl of the Taiwan Strait was just around the corner.

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