Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 3 News List

MAC turns focus to cargo flights

CROSS-STRAIT TIES Following on a speech by the president calling for better cargo transit, MAC officials spoke of easing rules for cargo flights

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian clasps his hands in a New Year's prayer at a meeting of China-based Taiwanese businesspeople yesterday. Chen also said at the meeting that he will propose a cross-strait cargo transportation plan based on the Lunar New Year chartered flights.

PHOTO: CNA

Following the operation of cross-strait charter passenger flights over the New Year holiday, top cross-strait policymakers yesterday said they were prepared to take one step further and discuss the possibility of relaxing regulations on chartered cargo flights with Beijing.

"Nothing is impossible if both sides are sincere ? as long as China is willing to sit down and negotiate matters [with Taiwan,] no topic is off limits," President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday.

Chen spoke yesterday at an annual New Year's gathering of taishang, or Taiwanese business-people investing in China. He said that he had three wishes for the new year, saying that he hoped taishang would meet with success in the coming year, that plans to make cross-strait cargo transit more convenient could be realized and that the Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development (兩岸和平發展委員會) could be successfully established.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) elaborated on Chen's words, saying that currently, cargo flights between Taiwan and China must make transit stops in Hong Kong or Macau and can only be serviced by Taiwanese carriers. He said that negotiations with China would be required to relax these regulations or implement direct, reciprocal cargo flights.

According to policies drawn up last year, the MAC allows for 360 scheduled charter cargo flights a year. In addition, special chartered cargo flights can be arranged to meet the needs of specific shippers, but these flights are not to exceed the number of scheduled flights that year.

Taishang have long lobbied for the government to lift restrictions on cross-strait air links, saying cargo flights could cut transportation costs for businesses on both sides of the Strait, but the recent precedent set by negotiations for the Lunar New Year chartered flights has created new possibilities for cargo flight plans.

"Negotiations for Lunar New Year passenger charter flights were successful. Cargo chartered flights shouldn't be too difficult," Wu said.

"Negotiations for cargo and passenger chartered flights would be the same. There has to be a government representative present. No matter the capacity of that government official at the negotiations, he or she would still be a government official," Wu said.

Transportation officials Billy Chang (張國政), director-general of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), and Pu Zhaozhou (浦照洲), executive director of China's Civil Aviation Association, hammered out an agreement on non-stop charter flights for the Lunar New Year holiday on Jan. 15 in Macau. The flights, conducted from Jan 29 to this Sunday, have serviced numerous taishang returning home for the New Year holiday.

However, Wu warned that China's proposed anti-secession bill could stand in the way of increased cooperation between the two foes, reiterating that Beijing's legislative move could force Taiwanese people to express their opposition by conducting a referendum.

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) also attended yesterday's festivities. Meeting with taishang for the first time since taking up his post at the head of the Executive Yuan, Hsieh announced that he would push for more educational funding for taishang children, a good portion of whom attend special taishang schools in China.

About 230 taishang were present yesterday.

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