Thu, Feb 27, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Opposition lawmakers calling for direct flights

PLAN Nearly 70 legislators from the pan-blue camp say the Lunar New Year flights prove that regular charter flights to China will not threaten the nation's security

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Opposition lawmakers yesterday called on the government to approve regular direct charter flights between Taiwan and China, saying similar flights during the Lunar New Year proved harmless to the nation's security or dignity.

Nearly 70 legislators from the KMT and PFP have signed a petition that urges authorities to permit regular direct flights, for both passengers and cargo, between Taipei and major Chinese cities.

KMT Legislator John Chang (章孝嚴), who has spearheaded the campaign, said the proposed services are meant to expedite the return of Taiwanese businesspeople in China and the distribution of their merchandise.

To that end, he proposed domestic airlines be allowed to operate regular direct charter passenger flights across the Strait either during specific holidays, or on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

"Such flights during the Lunar New Year showed they posed no danger to national defense or security," Chang told a morning news conference. "In the future, they should be made available to all ROC passengers traveling between the two sides."

The government allowed six domestic airlines to ferry China-based Taiwanese businesspeople home for family reunions between Jan. 26 and Feb. 5.

All the flights had to make brief stopovers in Hong Kong or Macau before returning to Taiwan, as direct transport links must involve government-to-government talks.

Beijing has insisted Taipei recognize the "one China" principle before seeking to resume official negotiations. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has refused to concede this point.

To save time and costs, Chang proposed future charter flights be spared from symbolic landings in a third place, which policy planners earlier indicated may be extended to Okinawa.

Additionally, Chang pushed for direct charter freight flights across the Taiwan Strait, saying they are in great demand by domestic electronic firms during high seasons.

Every summer, many Taiwanese entrepreneurs are eager to export their electronic products to China and send their merchandise made in China back to this country for global redistribution in the fall, he pointed out.

According to Chang, several DPP colleagues also endorsed his petition.

PFP Legislator Chin Huei-chu (秦慧珠) said she is receptive to cross-strait charter flights but voiced reservations about the flights being used to fly Taiwanese businesspeople home for the presidential polls next year.

Advocates of direct links are expected to vote for the candidates sympathetic to their cause.

Chin said the proposal may be painted as a Chinese attempt to interfere with Taiwan's elections.

"Rivals may claim that some of the home-bound voters are actually mobilized by Chinese leaders to back their favored candidates," she said.

But KMT Legislator Chu Fong-chi (朱鳳芝) said no political concerns should be used as an excuse to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote.

She added that China-based businesspeople would endorse Chen if he agreed to lift bans on direct links.

Chang said he is to press ahead with his proposal, which he hoped authorities could adopt by the end of May.

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