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Over Taiwan Straits, historic flights take off

updated: 2008-07-04

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan witnessed their historic regular flights being officially launched on Friday, in an apparent sign of accelerating conciliation and getting to each other nearer and closer.

The first of the flights, a China Southern Airlines plane, landed at Taipei's Taoyuan airport after leaving Guangzhou in southern China early in the early morning. The flight, which took off at 6:30 am from Guangzhou, arrived in Taipei at 8:10 am after 1,124-km direct journey. There is no time difference between the mainland and Taiwan.

It was followed a short time later by four other direct flights from the southern port city of Xiamen, capital city of Beijing, business hub Shanghai, and eastern city of Nanjing, where China's Kuomintang (KMT) Party once had its headquarters in the 1940s.

A total of 760 mainland tourists are on the direct flights to Taiwan and will stay there for 10 days, Xinhua reported.

No such regular flights, aside from a few charters on select Chinese holidays, such as the Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, have flown since 1949, when a civil war between the KMT and the Communist Party of China (CPC) ended. CPC won the war.

Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT Party won decisively in March in the Taiwan election and took office in May on pledges to revitalize the island economy with closer trade and transit ties to the mainland, which has a sizzling economy. Ma has estimated that 50 million mainlanders would visit Taiwan.

Since Ma took office, his administration has also introduced a raft of other reform measures as well, many designed to make it easier for Taiwan businessmen to invest in the mainland.

In Beijing, tourism and senior government officials gave speeches before the departure of an Air China flight with 294 passengers on board.

"Today is a new start in the history of exchanges between the two sides," said Wang Yi, director of both the Taiwan Work Office of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, which oversees across-Straits relations. "At present, cross-Straits relations are facing a rare opportunity for development," he said.

At Taipei's Songshan airport, passengers on the first flight were greeted by a throng of local media, along with a welcoming ceremony with Chinese traditional dragon dancers.

"It's so convenient to get here. Since I was very young I always wanted to go to Alishan Mountain," said Wang Qi, a 40-year-old tourist on the Xiamen flight, referring to Taiwan's most famous mountain. "So today I feel very happy."

Enthusiasm about an expected boom in cross-Straits tourism helped to push up the tourism index by nearly 3 percent in early Friday trade in Taiwan, even as the broader market fell.

The 36 round trips per week will eliminate time-consuming Hong Kong or Macao stopovers for mainland and Taiwan visitors.

Some estimated that the direct flights are expected to hurt Hong Kong's airlines, most notably Cathay Pacific, and to help Taiwan's China Airlines and the China Eastern, though the shift in travel patterns should be gradual.