Negotiators commissioned by the government to talk about cross-strait charter flight issues with China said yesterday that the feasibility of the successful implementation hinges on the goodwill of both Taiwan and China.
Taipei Airlines Association (TAA) President Fan Chih-chiang (范志強) made the remarks during a hearing held by the Taiwan Economic and Industrial Association, a thinktank established by Democratic Progressive Party legislator Hong Chi-chang (洪奇昌).
"In the past when I didn't participate in the negotiations, I was eager to see their completion. Now I realize that talks can only advance gradually and it's impossible to achieve everything in one step," Fan said.
Fan was entrusted to set up negotiations for cross-strait cargo and passenger charter flights last August as part of the government's three main priorities for cross-strait negotiations, which include opening Taiwan to Chinese tourists and the export of Taiwanese fruits to China announced last June.
While this year's charter flight services during Lunar New Year were concluded in November, and the flights are due to start today, the issues of cargo and passenger charter flights and the opening of Taiwan to Chinese tourists have made slow progress up to now.
Yesterday at the hearing, several representatives from airlines pushed the government to move quickly on cross-strait charter flights, saying they were necessary in order to maintain the competitiveness of airlines.
"Chinese airlines have expanded rapidly in recent years -- buying a large number of planes, cooperating with international airlines and use of the `fifth freedom,'" said Philip Wei (魏幸雄), chairman of China Airlines.
The `fifth freedom,' refers to the right of an airline from one country to land in a second country, pick up passengers and fly on to a third country, where the passengers then disembark.
"If the situation continues and no breakthrough in cross-strait direct transportation is made in the near future, it will be difficult for Taiwanese airlines to compete with China's airlines," Wei added.
An anonymous official from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said that China has been reluctant to grant the `fifth freedom' to Taiwan's airlines during negotiations.
Regarding tourism, government-commissioned negotiator Tseng Sheng-hai (曾盛海), secretary-general of the Travel Agents Association of the Republic of China, remained silent during the hearing.
However, former MAC vice chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) said that Beijing has been deliberately avoiding contact with Tseng since he was entrusted by the government to negotiate on the issue.
Chen said that China regarded lifting its ban on citizens traveling to Taiwan as a "great favor" to the administration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
"[China's] strategy for lifting the ban is to ask Taiwan to compromise on political issues," he said.
Meanwhile, while receiving former South Korean member of parliament Yoo Joon-sang, the president said that, "Some people in Taiwan aggressively promote direct links across the Taiwan Strait. But when we look at Korea, we find that there's no direct links between North Korea and South Korea, unless it's for humanitarian reasons."
The president said that Taiwan has to think carefully before opening direct links across the Strait because national security and the common interest of the people remain top priorities.