Six weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year, the Mainland Affairs Council said yesterday that Beijing is not interested in pursuing cross-strait charter flights during the holiday.
"As soon as the elections were over we tried to approach China again through private channels, and the answer we got was a flat `no.' Their officials have made things very clear -- China is just not interested," council Chairman Joseph Wu (
"While we had hoped that talks on charter flights could begin after the legislative elections, from what we've heard recently, it does not seem like China is interested in working on bringing about the charter flights or even in engaging in any sort of positive interaction across the Taiwan Strait," he said.
Since last month, the government has been prepared to hand the proposed negotiations over to the Taipei Airlines Association, but said that it would only do so when China's stance became clear.
Although Wu said yesterday that China rejected talks on charter flights, both sides had agreed earlier this year to establish flights in accordance with the so-called "Hong Kong model."
Negotiations to formalize direct flights between Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2002 were conducted primarily by business repre-sentatives, but under government supervision.
It is estimated that around 500,000 Taiwanese businesspeople working in China plan to come home for the Lunar New Year holiday, but prospects for cross-strait charter flights are bleak in light of the recent introduction of an anti-secession law in Beijing and the harsh line China took in yesterday's white paper on national defense. The government had been aiming to implement direct, reciprocal flights between Taiwan and China.
According to Wu, it was unlikely that charter flights similar to those implemented last year would be established for the upcoming holiday.
"It's not enough for us to depend on our own strength," he said.
Cross-strait holiday charter flights, which took place for the first time in February last year, were limited to making stops in Hong Kong and Macau and had been open only to Taiwanese airline carriers.
Transportation officials also expressed doubt regarding whether it was too late to establish cross-strait flights.
"If the governments agree to cross-strait flights, airline carriers will be very rushed. Usually, the China-based Taiwanese business-people who plan to return to Taiwan over the Lunar New Year book tickets two months in advance. If these tickets have already been booked by the time cross-strait flights are established, then the question is whether there will be market demand for the cross-strait flights," said Hou Chien-wen (侯建文), director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration's air route department.
Business representatives and academics yesterday called on the government to take steps to capitalize on the possible dissolution of tension that direct flights could bring about.
The Council for Industrial and Commercial Development yesterday held a forum to urge the government to move away from the current stalemate.
"The Mainland Affairs Council has requested that China engage in talks with Taiwan, but China has taken a very hard stance on this," said Chao Chien-min (
He urged the government to take a more proactive stance, noting that legislators have in the past gone to China to encourage progress on chartered flights.