Ma, China reiterate hope direct flights will kick off in July

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President-elect Ma Ying-jeou has reiterated his plan to introduce cross-strait direct charter flight in July, while Beijing has maintained that such aviation links are a common wish shared by the people of both sides. Ma is trying to reassure China that the controversial appointment of a formerly pro-independence figure to the Mainland Affairs Council does not signal any changes to his cross-strait vows. Li Wei-yi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office under China’s State Council (Cabinet), said Beijing would not comment on the appointment of Lai Hsing-yuan to the MAC. But he reiterated that it is the wish of the people on both sides of the strait to see weekend direct flights and the opening of Taiwan to Chinese tourists. “The mainland is actively working towards materializing the wish,” Li said. “If this process is interrupted by anyone, this is not what the people from both sides would want to see.” “It needs joint efforts by both sides to complete the negotiations,” he said.

Li reiterated Beijing’s hopes that negotiations between China’s Association for the Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), and Taiwan’s Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF) can resume as soon as possible under the “1992 consensus.” The recruiting of Lai, who is from the formerly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), to head such a sensitive body has dropped a bombshell, sparking fears that cross-strait tensions will persist. If tensions between Taiwan and China don’t thaw quickly, Ma may not be able to reach an agreement with Beijing soon enough to kick off weekend charter flights across the strait on July 4 as he promised. Ma admitted Tuesday that it would be difficult to introduce weekend charter flights in July, but he had no choice.

A scholar from China was cited by Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper as saying that what Ma says may not be important, because what Lai will do after taking the MAC office will be crucial.

Some legislators from Ma’s own camp, the Kuomintang, have vowed to oust Lai from the Cabinet if the July charter flight promise cannot materialize. “If the government fails to kick off cross-strait direct charter flights on July 4, Lai Hsing-yuan must step down,” said KMT Legislator Chiu Yi. Ma has set a timetable for opening cross-strait direct flights. The weekend charter flights will be followed by daily charter flights and then daily regular flights. The current administration under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has adopted former President Lee Teng-hui’s cautious approach towards developing direct transportation across the strait. Lee and the DPP have argued that such transport links, coupled with the liberation of investment across the strait, would allow China to hijack Taiwan economically. Lee’s strong pro-Taiwan independence stance has earned him reproach from China, which has described him as one belonging to the “dustbin of history.” But Lee and the Taiwan Solidarity Union that he helped establish have shifted towards a more centrist position in recent years.