Tue, Oct 29, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Legislators back down on flights

NOT SO FAST Two DPP lawmakers did a U-turn yesterday by saying they had changed their minds about signing a petition that supports direct charter flights to Shanghai

By Lin Miao-Jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen gestures as she talks about the possibility of charter flights to China at the legislature yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Two DPP lawmakers had a change of heart yesterday after signing a petition on Sunday that urged Taiwanese airlines to operate charter flights to Shanghai for the benefit of Taiwanese businessmen during the Lunar New Year.

"I had wanted to help provide a service for Taiwanese businessmen in China but, having looked further into the matter, I now see the situation slightly differently," said Legislator Chou Po-lun (周伯倫).

"If we risk our sovereignty for air transportation to China, it is unacceptable," Chou said.

DPP Legislator Chang Chin-feng (張清芳) said that the number of flights required -- estimated at about 500, each carrying 200 passengers -- to serve the needs of the 100,000 estimated Taiwanese citizens likely to take advantage of them -- rendered the proposal "impractical."

Both lawmakers called for the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to consider the matter at length.

Although yesterday the Legislative Home and Nations Committee was scheduled to review a draft amendment to a major cross-strait law, many legislators questioned officials' attitudes toward a proposal of sending charter flights to Shanghai so Taiwanese can come back to Taiwan during the Lunar New Year.

KMT lawmaker John Chang (章孝嚴) proposed having charter flights between Shanghai and Taipei as a touchstone for formal direct transport links with China. He announced on Sunday that he already had the support of 121 legislators, more than half of the 225-seat legislature.

Of the 121 signatories, 26 are DPP lawmakers.

The proposal would have to be approved by the Cabinet, on the advice of the MAC.

The plan is seen by its supporters as likely to succeed if approved by the Cabinet as it would only require Taiwanese airlines to apply for permission to the Chinese government, obviating the need for government-to-government negotiations.

Chou, who signed the petition, pointed out that China's current regulations stated that passenger airplanes from Taiwan are not allowed to carry any material with "Republic of China" on it, if approved for flights to China.

More specifically, the regulation stipulates that "ROC" and the national flag cannot appear anywhere on interior decorations, passenger items, newspapers, magazines or on the outside of the aircraft. The penalty for a violation is that the airline will lose permission to continue making the flights.

Chou asked the council to ensure that Taiwan's sovereignty is upheld in the event that charter flights are authorized.

In response, Chairwoman of the MAC Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the council will take the issue into account. She said that the possibility of charter flights was inseparable from the wider issue of direct transport links. "I have reservations for the time being, but I will consider the issue thoroughly," she said.

Chou said, "I don't think China will give a green light to that much flight traffic. In addition, if they give permission for only a few flights and there is a political reason behind the move rather than addressing a specific problem, then why should we allow domestic air companies to take advantage of the situation?"

But John Chang said that charter flights would perform a much needed service to Taiwanese businessmen who live and work in China. "We don't have to satisfy all of their needs, but we can do everything in our power to show our concern for them," Chang said.

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