Thu, Nov 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Direct flights not imminent: MAC

SPECULATION A visit by two Chinese officials and the CAL head's trip across the Strait have fueled rumors that an agreement on direct flights might be near

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

The low-profile arrival of two officials from China's Taiwan Affairs Office yesterday coincided with speculations that a recent trip to China by the head of the nation's largest carrier, China Airlines (CAL) chairman Chiang Yao-chung (江耀宗), might be tied to the closely watched direct cross-strait flights for the Lunar New Year.

Li Xiaoyun (李小云), director of the Cross-Strait Economic and Technological Exchange Center under China's Taiwan Affairs Office, and Feng Chuozhe (馮卓志), president of Beijing's state-run Cross-Strait Travel Service, were greeted by an anonymous official upon their arrival at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.

It is believed that Li and Feng are visiting Taiwan to discuss issues regarding the opening of direct charter flights for the Lunar New Year holidays and tourism policies. Li and Feng, however, said they were invited to make a sightseeing trip.

"We will travel around the island for sightseeing," Li said, adding that he and Feng received the invitation a long time ago but had postponed the trip until now for various reasons. This is Li's first trip to Taiwan, while Feng has visited on several previous occasions. Meanwhile, China Airlines (CAL) yesterday confirmed that its chairman, Chiang Yao-chung (江耀宗), was currently in China on a business trip but denied speculations that the trip had anything to do with the closely watched cross-strait chartered flights for the upcoming Lunar New Year.

CAL spokesman Roger Han (韓梁中) said that Chiang was slated to visit companies in the area but that the trip was strictly business.

"The trip is only for business purposes.Media reports [linking the trip to cross-strait chartered flights] are wrong and merely speculating," Han said.

According to the Chinese-language daily China Times, Chiang had formally reported the trip to the Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) ahead of time but had not been asked to carry out any tasks on behalf of the government. According to the report, Chiang departed for China last Sunday and plans to stay for about a week.

News of Chiang's trip to China follows an abrupt halt on the carrier's privatization plans just last week. Lin announced last Tuesday that the government was to remain the airline's largest shareholder, while Premier Yu Shyi-kun had indicated that the carrier was needed to service diplomatic missions when necessary.

Lending further support to speculations of Chiang's involvement in efforts to establish cross-strait flights and direct links with China is his concurrent position as a chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), a semi-official organization that oversees and conducts cross-strait exchanges in lieu of the government. He is generally believed to align politically with the pan-green camp.

Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said that the council was aware of Chiang's trip, but attributed the trip to business motives. Chiu pointed to the opportunities that the Chinese market held for carriers, saying that if Chiang's trip touched upon discussion of direct cross-strait flights or the "three links," it was due to private business prospects.

"Basically, if Chiang discusses cross-strait flights in China, it is without the council's authorization," Chiu said.

"The likelihood that talks with China about cross-strait chartered flights will be conducted by China Air is small. China Air is a business representative -- what would EVA Air or other carriers think?" Chiu said.

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