Discussions between Taiwan and China on allowing Chinese nationals to transit through Taiwan may be discussed by officials from both sides within two months, Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Deputy Chairman Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) said.
“We will ask the authorities involved to figure out feasible solutions and hopefully exchange views with China in two months,” he said.
Chang commented on the issue after the SEF reported to the premier the results of just-concluded high-level talks between the organization and the Beijing-based Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).
The transit question is of major importance to Taiwan, which is planning to turn its main international gateway — Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport — into a major transportation, logistics and commercial hub.
During the SEF-ARATS meeting, both sides agreed to study the possibility of allowing cross-strait layovers, exploring new routes and shortening travel times to meet increasing travel demand, Chang said.
At present, Taiwanese travelers can make transit stops in China en route to other countries, but China does not allow its nationals to do so through Taiwan, which has put Taiwanese airlines at a significant disadvantage relative to their regional rivals.
China enforces its ban by not granting passports to travelers if a transit stop through Taiwan is part of their travel plans.
As a result, they travel through other cities in China or other Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea.
Beijing fears that nationals showing their passports in Taiwan during transit stops or layovers will signal that it sees Taiwan as a country.
At present, Chinese nationals visit Taiwan using travel permits issued by the immigration bureaus of both Taipei and Beijing.
Taiwan has repeatedly asked Beijing to allow Chinese to make transit stopovers in Taiwan, but the two sides have never reached a consensus, and Beijing did not touch on the issue until Chang and his ARATS counterpart met last month in China.
Though Chang hailed Beijing’s mention of the subject as a breakthrough, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) seemed to want to downplay the issue on Wednesday.
Ma said China said the top priority in cross-strait aviation talks was shortening travel times and facilitating more cross-strait flights by allowing aircraft to fly directly over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, something Taiwan adamantly opposes for security reasons.
Amid speculation China may insist that Taiwan give in on the median line issue to make cross-strait transits possible, Chang said there was “no room for negotiation” on the matter.
“The two issues are separate. They will not be bundled together in negotiations,” Chang said.
His remarks were echoed by ARATS Deputy Chairman Zheng Lizhong (鄭立中).
Taiwanese airlines are hoping the transit issue can be resolved, believing that the planned Taoyuan aerotropolis could become an aviation hub on the scale of Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul if Chinese passengers were allowed to connect to the US and Australia through Taoyuan airport.