China, Taiwan sign historic deals on flights, tourists

Shilin Night Market in Taipei

Taiwan's Chiang Pin-Kun (L) and his Chinese counterpart Chen Yunlin (R) exchange greetings

BEIJING: China and Taiwan signed historic agreements on Friday to establish direct regular flights between the two sides and allow mainland tourists to visit the island, with the event broadcast on national TV.

The agreement on direct flights will see flights between China and Taiwan every weekend, instead of just on national holidays as is currently the case.

The heads of the semi-official bodies involved in the two days of landmark talks in Beijing – China's Chen Yunlin and Taiwan's Chiang Pin-kun – signed the agreements.

The flights will begin on July 4 and involve 36 services between China and Taiwan each week. Carriers from each side will operate 18 flights, according to details of the agreement published on China's official Xinhua news agency.

From July 18, each side will be able to send 3,000 tourists to the other side each day. Mainland Chinese tourists will have to travel in groups of between 10 and 40, and go through registered tour agencies, Xinhua reported.

The agreement in effect triples the number of mainland Chinese allowed to visit Taiwan, as under current rules only 1,000 are allowed to travel to the island and they must have a stopover in Hong Kong or another third location.

The agreements are the most significant yet in the dramatic thawing of ties between the long-time rivals in recent months.

Trade and tourism between China and Taiwan has been severely restricted ever since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
China maintains Taiwan is part of its territory and had said that the two sides will eventually be reunified, by force if necessary.

Relations plummeted during the eight-year reign of Taiwan's previous president, Chen Shui-bian, who deeply angered China by trying to steer Taiwan closer towards independence.

However his successor, Ma Ying-jeou, was elected on a platform of establishing much closer ties with China.

Ma was inaugurated last month after his Kuomintang party won the presidential elections in March.

Amid the warming of ties, the two sides agreed to restart direct talks in Beijing on Thursday through semi-official bodies, as they do not have diplomatic relations. That dialogue had been suspended for a decade.

- AFP/so