Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Airlines confirm approval for talks on charter flights

CONTACT While the Mainland Affairs Council remained evasive, the Taipei Airlines Association said it had been delegated by the government to engage in negotiations

By Joy Su and Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTERS

While airline representatives confirmed that they had been officially authorized to handle cross-strait charter flights for the upcoming Lunar New Year, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) yesterday maintained silence on the matter, saying only that "contact had been made."

With the Lunar New Year around the corner, it remains an open question whether cross-strait charter flights will materialize to accommodate the estimated 500,000 Taiwanese businesspeople returning home for the holidays.

MAC Vice Chairman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) yesterday assured the media that progress was being made.

"The two sides have already begun to communicate on the matter," he said yesterday.

However, Chiu refused to confirm whether the government had formally authorized the Taipei Airlines Association to represent the government in possible negotiations with China over the charter flights. The council stated last month that it would authorize the association to engage in talks as soon as "China's stance becomes clear."

"Is it really important whether we've authorized the association? That's not the main point here," Chiu said.

While the MAC has sought to keep a low profile on the matter, the association yesterday told the media that it had been delegated by the government to engage in negotiations, but refrained from saying when such talks would take place or with whom they would meet.

"We are bound to confidentiality by our agreement with the government," association Secretary-General Solo Su (蘇賢榮) said.

Su denied the veracity of an article by the local Chinese-language newspaper the China Times that said Su and association Chairman Michael Lo (樂大信) had left for Beijing yesterday to negotiate the details of cross-strait charter flights.

"I'm still in Taipei, right?" Su said yesterday.

The China Daily had reported that the Beijing representative offices of several local carriers had been expecting to meet with Lo yesterday.

With the Lunar New Year less than five weeks off, Su said that time was of the essence.

"There will indeed be a lot of pressure on the airline carriers, and they're worried about whether there will be market demand for the charter flights as the holiday approaches," he said.

However, Su said that as long as both sides were willing to cooperate, the matter could be resolved quickly.

While cross-strait flights took place in February 2003, the prospects for this year looked bleak until Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) put the issue back on the table on Monday.

Whether cross-strait talks will be held and whether flights will be direct and reciprocal has yet to be determined, but observers have said the flights are an indicator of the direction cross-strait exchanges might take in the future, as well as being a possible forerunner to the "three links" with China.

Meanwhile, in their efforts to facilitate cross-strait charter flights for Taiwanese working in China, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) said yesterday that it is preparing to send a small delegation to Beijing on Sunday to talk to Chinese authorities.

The delegation hopes to facilitate reciprocal direct charter flights with no stopovers from Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzu.

Given its preliminary contacts with the MAC and the Chinese authorities, KMT Legislator and Central Policy Committee executive director Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) said yesterday that the KMT has high hopes that at least two of its objectives will be achieved.

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