Wed, May 15, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Taipei's strategy for direct links talks slowly emerges

PRACTICAL APPROACH The minister of transportation and communications indicated Monday that Taipei plans to use air-pact talks with Hong Kong as a model

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) has confirmed that the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration is looking for private companies and organizations to take a leading role in negotiating the eventual opening of direct links with China, but in a Washington appearance he repeatedly refused to give any details to clarify the position.

Guarded response

In response to a question after a luncheon at the US-Taiwan Business Council, Lin tried to expand on comments Chen made Friday en route to Taitung County, but shed little new light on the policy.

"If the major concern of the cross-strait shipping or airline businesses is purely commercial, then it can go through private channels," Lin said through an interpreter. "But if there's anything regarding government authority involved, then the government should still participate," he said.

The government role, he said as an example, would involve the so-called "ICQ" issues, regarding immigration, customs and quarantine.

In his comments and in a press conference afterward, in which he repeatedly evaded specific answers to reporters questions, Lin seemed to say that the government is planning, as a model for its eventual direct links negotiating position, the aviation pact talks with Hong Kong and Macau.

In those negotiations, private firms have worked out the technical and purely commercial aspects of the links, while the government has dealt with the political and strategic issues involved.

For instance, private firms can decide the rates charged for cross-strait transportation, the frequency, the schedules and the numbers of companies that can participate in the trade. The government, presumably, would deal with broader issues such as the national security implications, sovereignty, the flying of national flags, the police and regulatory issues and such issues as dispute resolution.

High-speed rail

In regard to other matters, Lin said that the high-speed rail system under construction, while delayed, is 37 percent finished and should be completed as scheduled in 2005.

In his speech to about 150 business people, government officials and think tank leaders, Lin said that the Chen administration is formulating "an overall cross-strait transport plan carefully."

"Our basic stance with regard to cross-strait direct transport links is that, under the precondition that our national security is protect and following the principles of `dignity, order and security, and mutual benefit and both sides winning, the cross-strait transportation situation will be gradually improved," he said.

Order of priorities

"Direct sea transport links will be opened up before air transport, and transport of goods opened before the transport of people," he said.

He expressed the hope that under the WTO framework, both sides will "quickly start up contacts and dialogue" on "various cross-strait transport-related matters."

He said that in other international fora, including APEC, "I also do not rule out, at suitable times, talking about the technical aspects of cross-strait transport with representatives from Mainland China, so that future bilateral cross-strait transport negotiations can go smoothly."

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