The Chinese government linking the establishment of new air routes directly crossing the middle of the Taiwan Strait with the issue of Chinese tourists making transit stops in Taiwan has stalled recent negotiations for the latter.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) agreed to make an effort to allow Chinese tourists to transit through Taiwan on their way to other countries when he first came to Taiwan in June last year, but the office brought up the issue of establishing new flight routes in November last year, saying that existing routes are too busy to allow new flights, citing air safety concerns.
China again broached the topic of “streamlining the flight routes” at recent cross-strait negotiations in Taipei to allow Chinese tourists to make transit stops in Taiwan.
A Taiwanese official said last month’s meeting between Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) and Zhang resulted in a consensus that the two sides could make some preliminary agreements on technical issues concerning Chinese tourists by the end of this month, with a view to preparing for the implementation of the new measure in the second half of this year.
Due to China bringing the establishment of new flight routes back into the discussion, the MAC has been forced to announce the suspension of the measure’s implementation, saying it could no longer confirm the date of its commencement.
Direct flights between Taiwan and China began in 2008 after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office. After a cross-strait meeting in November 2008, “the north air route,” or flight route R596, was established. Another cross-strait meeting of top officials in April 2009 resulted in the “second north air route” (B591) and the “south air route” (R200).
There are currently three direct air routes between the two sides, all of which have been established based on the principle of bypassing the center of the Taiwan Strait.
Flight route R596 travels north from Taiwan and veers left from the Taipei flight information region (FIR) to the Shanghai FIR, and is used for flights bound for Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing.
Flight route B591 lies east of the existing north air route, and is used for flights to China’s northern and northeastern cities. The “south air route” heads south from Taiwan, turning from the Taipei FIR to the Guangzhou FIR, and is used for flights bound for China’s southern cities, such as Guangzhou.
China’s Xiamen, a short distance from Taiwan’s offshore Kinmen County, is among the destinations on the “south air route.” A person involved in the cross-strait negotiations said that a Chinese delegation once said that flights from Xiamen taking the “south air route” were a waste of time and fuel, and requested a direct flight crossing the Taiwan Strait to be known as the “Kinmen air route.”
China asked for new flight routes in 2009, saying the two sides should work on mutual military trust, and called on Taiwan to allow the establishment of a “middle air route” that crosses the center of the Taiwan Strait, which could increase the number of cross-strait flights from 200 to up to 800 per week.
The Ma administration rejected the proposal, and the MAC has reiterated this stance, citing national security concerns.
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