Taiwan and China will start direct air and shipping services today, formally ending a nearly six-decade ban on regular links.
Prominent politicians will attend inauguration ceremonies in Taiwan and China today to mark the opening.
The first Taiwanese ships, from Evergreen and Yang Ming Marine, are scheduled to leave from Kaohsiung and Keelung for Chinese ports at about noon.
Ships with the Chinese companies China Shipping and China Ocean Shipping are to sail vessels to Taiwan from Shanghai and Tianjin respectively.
Also today, up to 60 cargo flights per month will start to fly between Taiwan and China in accordance with an agreement signed on Nov. 4 between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).
Daily passenger flights will also start, with 16 scheduled for today, in an expansion of weekend charter services that began in July.
The direct services will help companies cut costs and will create new businesses as both Taiwan and China are feeling the pinch of the global economic slowdown, SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) said.
“This will contribute greatly to our economic development,” said Chiang, who signed the air and shipping pacts with ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).
With annual bilateral trade at about US$100 billion, many businesses have pushed for years to end the ban on direct links.
In the past, cross-strait flights had to fly through Hong Kong airspace, while cargo ships had to stop at Okinawa.
Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a political science professor at Soochow University, said that direct transportation links would mark the beginning of more frequent cross-strait civic and business exchanges as the cost of transportation and traveling time would be reduced.
“Hostilities between the two sides will also be tempered,” he said.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications estimated that local airlines and passengers would save around NT$3 billion (US$89.8 million) a year, while shipping companies would save around half that.
George Tsai (蔡瑋), a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the direct links would “kick-start” the process of a full normalization of relations with China.
“Once closer links are in place, they could hardly be stopped or retracted, no matter who becomes the next president,” Tsai said.
“And once that happens, Taiwan will not be able to get out of [the] framework of ‘One China,’” Tsai said, referring to Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan.
When Chen visited Taiwan last month to sign the agreements on transport links, massive protests dogged his trip.
Violent clashes between police and protesters injured more than 110 people.
“The direct flights certainly have political implications,” Lo said.
“Songshan Airport is for domestic flights and no foreign airlines are allowed to use it. Then why has the government opened it to Chinese air carriers? To Beijing, the direct flights are domestic routes,” Lo said.
Lo rejected the government’s claim that Taiwan had more to gain economically from the flights, saying Beijing would benefit more.
“While the flights take more Taiwan tourists and investors to China, the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan is much lower than the targeted 3,000 per day,” he said.