Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Chen gives mystery instructions about cross-strait flights

MORE THAN JUST TALK Chiu Tai-san said the president gave orders regarding direct cross-strait cargo flights, but refused to reveal them


President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has given "concrete instructions" making chartered cross-strait cargo flights a priority, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said yesterday.

"I can assure you that President Chen has given us concrete instructions to continue with efforts towards bringing about chartered cargo flights ... and that these instructions move in a good direction," MAC Vice Chairman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said without elaborating yesterday.

Chiu refused to disclose the details of Chen's instructions, saying only that Chen's recent vow -- made on Wednesday -- to push for direct cross-strait cargo flights was more than just talk.

Chiu did disclose yesterday that Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) had agreed to boost the Council's Department of Economic Affairs, which oversees air links across the Taiwan Strait, with increased manpower and an emphasis on appointing officials well-versed in the legal aspects of air links between Taiwan and China.

Since the launch of direct cross-strait charter flights exclusively servicing taishang -- Taiwanese businesspeople based in China -- during the Lunar New Year, the business community and authorities have sought to build on the precedent and establish cargo flights under a similar agreement.

Chiu said yesterday that, with just three flights left, a total of 9,889 taishang had taken advantage of the direct flights during the holiday.

Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Ken Hsu (許顯榮) explained that the lack of direct flights to China cost Taiwan about NT$100 billion in unnecessary transportation costs annually. Referring to indirect passenger flights, Hsu said that each person spends an additional NT$330 due to the mandatory stopover. In total, indirect links incur costs of up to NT$52 billion for passenger flights and NT$40 billion for cargo transfers between Taiwan and China each year, he said.

"All of this money is going to Hong Kong and Macau," Hsu said, pressing the government to pick up the pace on relaxing restrictions on passenger and freight transit across the Strait.

"The government is prepared to take action on this, and we hope that China will do the same," Chiu said yesterday. Reports in the local media have indicated that China is likely to respond positively to Taiwan's proposal.

Chiu did point, however, to the difficulties that cargo flights could pose, indicating that direct cargo flights would inevitably draw a reaction from the marine cargo shipping sector.

TransAsia Airways Chairman Tony Fan (范志強) also warned that, despite the enthusiasm displayed by both the private and public sector, preparation for cargo flights would take time.

Fan, who is tapped to take over as chairman of the Taipei Airlines Association, the organization the government authorized to negotiate with Beijing on the New Year flights, said that cargo shipping would involve various concerns previously untouched.

"We would have to handle products restricted in certain areas and conflicts that might arise with the shipper. And handling these situations poorly could reflect negatively on Taiwan's international image," Fan said, indicating that the operation of cargo flights could open a Pandora's box of difficulties hitherto unforeseen.

Chang Wu-ueh (張五岳), a professor at Tamkang University's Institute of China Studies, also warned that in the rush to establish cooperation with China on chartered cargo flights, it was important not to lose sight of the need for formal cross-strait negotiations and agreements on air traffic rights and jurisdiction.

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