Sat, Nov 13, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Industry group can negotiate direct flights

HEADWAY MAC officials said it was ready to start negotiations with China over direct chartered and cargo flights, but the ball is now in China's court

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation's top cross-strait policymaking body revealed yesterday that it plans to authorize the Taipei Airline Association (TAA) to begin negotiating direct cross-strait cargo and passenger flights to China once Beijing's "attitude becomes clear."

"This decision shows very clearly our willingness to be flexible and practical in handling cross-strait flights and indicates our determination to resume mutually beneficial talks with China," Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said yesterday.

The announcement came just days after President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) gave the green light to entrust consultation on cross-strait flights to commercial representatives in accordance with the "Hong Kong model." Chen had proposed that the model be used to negotiate both direct cargo flights and chartered flights for the upcoming Lunar New Year during which an estimated 100,000 China-based Taiwanese businesspeople, commonly known as taishang, are expected to return home for the holiday.

The so-called "Hong Kong model" refers to aviation negotiations held in June of 2002 between Hong Kong and Taiwan. The talks led to the signing of a new aviation pact just ahead of the expiration of the previous pact. The discussions, the first since Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing, had been conducted by business representatives from both Taiwan and Hong Kong under government supervision and authorization.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) said that the model was a "workable option" during an Oct. 27 press conference. In response to the TAO statement, the council would not rule out anything under the apparatus of negotiations.

Chiu also said yesterday that cargo flights and chartered flights over the Lunar New Year did not have to be discussed separately.

"We are willing to talk about A and B at the same time, or either A or B, or even C," Chiu said yesterday, saying it was willing to engage in discussions on any issue.

However, the council was quick to preface its words by saying that authorization of the TAA to negotiate would be granted only after Beijing clarifies its stance on the issue.

"Before China responds, this is all just hypothetical," Chiu said.

Whether negotiations are imminent is unclear, after the TAO said that such flights must be considered "domestic air routes." While the council has in the past designated the flights cross-strait routes, Chiu refrained from repeating this yesterday, calling instead for political maneuvering to be set aside.

"One of the components of the Hong Kong model is that political considerations be put aside," Chiu said.

Chiu made the announcement yesterday evening after a closed door meeting with key business representatives, including Michael Lo (樂大信), president of Mandarin Airlines and chairman of the TAA. Lo was one of the representatives who had negotiated and signed the Hong Kong-Taiwan aviation pact in 2002.

Legally, the government is prepared to entrust consultation to the private sector, having made appropriate amendments earlier this year to the Act Governing Relations Between Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸條例) to ensure that there is a legal basis for the council to designate a non-governmental agent to carry out negotiations. The council had previously been limited to entrust negotiations and agreements to the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation.

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