: Direct cross-strait charter flights on weekends are likely to start in July as scheduled, Cabinet officials said yesterday, adding that tourists from China should also be able to fly directly to Taiwan at the same time.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the proposals will be put into operation in July, as negotiations with [China] are fitting in well with our plans,” Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) said at a news conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The two proposals, which were high on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) agenda during his pre-election campaign, were approved yesterday as Liu’s Cabinet held its first meeting.
Liu said that the government’s preparations for implementing the two proposals were in place, and that doing so on schedule “should not be a problem.”
However, most of the details of the two proposals were not disclosed yesterday, apart from the locations of the eight airports that have been designated to accommodate the weekend cross-strait charter flights and that a maximum of 3,000 Chinese tourists per day would be allowed to travel to Taiwan.
“We are just one step away from completing the negotiations [on the two issues with China],” Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) told the press conference, adding that details would be announced once the deals have been finalized.
The eight airports are Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Kaohsiung International Airport, Taipei Songshan Airport, Chingchuankang Airport in Taichung and the airports in Hualien, Taitung, Kinmen and Penghu.
Mao said negotiations with China on the two issues had not been “disturbed” by Ma’s appointment of Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), a former lawmaker of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, as had been rumored.
Ma had previously promised to open weekend charter flights in July and said that July 4 was chosen because it was the first Friday of the month, but Cabinet officials yesterday sidestepped questions about the exact starting date.
The semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), which handles bilateral exchanges in the absence of official contacts, is scheduled to hold a board meeting on Monday to approve chairman-designate Chiang Pin-kung’s (江丙坤) appointment.
It is also expected that the SEF’s Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), will name its new head this month to fill the vacancy left following the death of Wang Daohan (汪道涵) in late 2005.
Given the suspension of SEF-ARATS talks, which began when former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) described the cross-strait situation as “special state-to-state relations” in 1999, negotiations on cross-strait issues were dealt with by civic groups commissioned by officials on both sides.
This negotiation mechanism was created as an expedient in 2003 by the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.
The Airfreight Forwarder’s Association of Taipei had been commissioned to talk to China about regular passenger and cargo charter flight issues since January 2005 and the Travel Agent Association was entrusted with tourism issues in August that year, but the DPP government had been unable to finalize the deals before it stepped down on Tuesday.
Liu said that the SEF, under supervision of the Mainland Affairs Council, would resume negotiations with the ARATS once their new leaders have been installed.
“The Mainland Affairs Council will authorize the SEF to talk to [China] immediately after Chiang starts work,” Lai said when questioned by reporters after the media conference.
Meanwhile, the military said it hoped that Taoyuan and Kaohsiung airports would be the first to be opened to direct flights, and that Hualien and Taitung airports should be last.
“We have military facilities and deployments in Hualien and Taitung that should remain classified. We need more time to relocate them,” Air Force Chief of General Staff Lieutenant-General Wu Chien-hsing (吳健行) told the legislature’s Diplomacy and National Defense Committee yesterday morning.
Vice Minister of National Defense Lin Chen-yi (林鎮夷) told lawmakers that the military had recommended careful re-evaluation of the plans to open the other six airports.
“China is still considered our main enemy, so we will not relax any security measures even if direct flights are allowed,” Lin said. “As a result we will also station more rapid-reaction troops at the eight airports.”
Wu said the military would request that the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) not allow charter flights to use regular domestic routes for safety reasons.
The Air Force said that it would require daily updated flight information about the charter flights from the CAA so that anti-aircraft batteries would be able to distinguish between potential enemy planes and regular civilian flights.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JIMMY CHUANG
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