Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 3 News List

MAC boss rejects US calls for direct air links

`WRONG TARGET' Joseph Wu said US companies and officials are complaining to the wrong side of the Taiwan Strait if they want to see quick action on direct flights

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) hit back angrily on Wednesday at US trade officials and business groups demanding that Taiwan agree to direct air links with China before US-Taiwan free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations can begin. He said that China, not Taiwan, is the culprit in the failure of cross-strait links to materialize.

"Taiwan is the wrong target," Wu told the Taipei Times in an interview as he began a three-day series of meetings with US officials, members of Congress and think tanks in Washington.

"If [the US government and business community] really want to see direct flights negotiations get underway, they need to tell the Chinese side to get down to work and negotiate with Taiwan," he said.

"The Chinese side simply does not want to negotiate with us on that issue," Wu insisted.

He made his comments one day after senior US trade official Eric Altbach repeated demands first made last year in Washington and Taipei by Deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia and American Institute in Taiwan Director Steve Young that Taiwan must establish direct links and otherwise expand ties with China to satisfy the needs of multinational US corporations before an FTA could be considered.

"It is very important to say in an open way, and to indicate to those people who are concerned about direct flights between the two sides, that the Taiwan government has never said `no' to negotiations for direct flights. It is the Chinese government that continues to refuse to negotiate with Taiwan," Wu said.

"Our American friends, whether they are in the administration or in the business community, who want to see direct flights between Taiwan and Chinese cities, they need to tell the Chinese side to get serious on negotiations. Pressure on the Taiwan side is simply of no use," Wu said.

He pointed to Taiwan's efforts to negotiate expanded charter flights as an example of its desire to improve cross-strait connections. He denied that this was a result of US pressure.

"We understand the obstacles [in China's refusal to negotiate], and therefore we try to pursue broader charter flights as an intermediate step into the next step of direct flights," Wu said. "So this is the direct result of our enthusiastic approach toward the transportation issue. It is not the result of pressure from the United States."

He pointed to Taiwan's efforts to expand the charter flights involving both cargo and passenger flights across the Taiwan Strait.

"The international community will see in the future broader passenger flights between Taiwan and China, and we will try to expand the qualification of the passengers to include Chinese and internationals," Wu said.

"The international community, especially those multinational corporations stationed in Taiwan and China who have a need to fly back and forth in a convenient way will find the future broader charter flights a thrilling event, because they won't have to change planes in Hong Kong any more," he said.

He said he hoped for some breakthrough on these talks "as soon as possible."

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