Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) said yesterday that weekend charter flights that fly directly between Taiwan and China instead of through a foreign air zone would not be a threat to national security.
“The final routes for direct charter flights shall be decided by the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications [MOTC]. We will submit recommendations to the MOTC that take national security into consideration, but I do not foresee any problems if the flights travel directly between Taiwan and China,” Chen told the legislature’s Diplomacy and National Defense Committee.
His remarks were a reversal of the ministry’s earlier stance.
Vice Minister of National Defense Lin Chen-yi (林鎮夷) recommended on May 23 that the MOTC not allow direct flights but have the planes fly through a third party’s air space.
The Air Force had also expressed reservations about plans to open eight airports to cross-strait flights, because all but Taoyuan International Airport and Kaohsiung International Airport are shared by military and civilian aircraft.
Chen’s comments were also in contradiction of a defense ministry report on May 18 that said direct charter flights would pose a threat to national security.
“We have done our part [evaluation and recommendations] and submitted the plan to the MOTC for reference a few days ago. Direct flights? I do not see why not,” Chen said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said yesterday that the government would negotiate more details on cross-strait charters, including the number of flights and destinations, with China after the Beijing Olympic Games in August.
Two new air routes proposed by the ministry, one to Shanghai and one to Xiamen, will be finalized after more negotiations between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), Mao said.
“More frequent negotiations will be held to address cross-strait flights and Chinese tourism. Our consensus with China is that after the Olympic Games, cross-strait flights will proceed step by step, like climbing stairs,” Mao said while reporting on the ministry’s plans to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee.
Mao was the first Cabinet member to be invited to discuss government policies with the KMT’s highest decision-making body.
KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) said the party would invite more Cabinet members to discuss policies with the committee so that the party can better communicate with the government.
Negotiators signed agreements earlier this month to begin regular weekend charter flights starting July 4 and allow Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan starting July 18.
Mao said negotiations on cross-strait cargo charter flights would be held within three months of the start of weekend passenger services.
The passenger flights will run from Friday to Monday, with each side operating 18 round-trip flights per week for a total of 36 round-trip flights.
Mao said a Chinese group visiting Taiwan on July 4 would include government officials, travel industry representatives and some tourists.
KMT Central Standing Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文) criticized the poor condition of the nation’s airports, including Songshan Airport and Taoyuan International Airport.