Weekend direct flights

The China Post news staff

Ma Ying-jeou, the president-elect, has promised to start weekend direct charter flights across the Taiwan Strait starting on July 4. Of course, he didn’t intentionally make the date coincide with the celebration of America’s Independence Day and perhaps China, to which Taiwan independence is an anathema, doesn’t like it.

It’s more likely, however, that Beijing wants to show its displeasure with Ma’s appointment of Lai Shing-yuan as chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council by making it a little more difficult for him to keep his word. All indications now are that those flights won’t get started according to schedule.

Airline operators in Taipei are counting themselves lucky if they can begin to ferry passengers across the strait direct on weekends at the end of July. Hoteliers, restaurateurs and travel agents who are looking forward to an influx of Chinese tourists after the direct flights get under way are almost certain their expected boon may not come before the end of this year, if at all. That’s going to be a disastrous letdown. There is an easy way out. When President Lee Teng-hui had the National Unification Council set up in 1990 and the Guidelines for National Unification adopted later as Taiwan’s highest directives governing its China policy, Beijing leaders regarded it as the toughest obstacle he had ever interposed on their way to subjugation of Taiwan.

Lee advocated unification, to which China could not voice open or covert opposition, but his real purpose was to keep Taiwan as a sovereign, independent state as long as it is possible.

They wanted quick Chinese reunification. There has been a change in their attitude since Chen Shui-bian succeeded Lee as president in 2000. They are more patient, but can’t tolerate Chen’s attempt to scrap the National Unification Council and the Guidelines for National Unification. Pressure was brought by the United States – at the request of the People’s Republic of China – to bear on President Chen not to terminate them when he tried in 2006. Washington warned him against the attempt, which it said was inconsistent with the pledge he made on inauguration in 2000 and 2004.

What Beijing wanted was to force Chen to keep a semblance of willingness to mention “unification” with China. He buckled under pressure and finally had the council “cease to function” and the guidelines “cease to apply.”

The two virtually dead horses have to be resuscitated if Taiwan wants to start weekend direct charter flights started on schedule and welcome Chinese tourists to the island.

Beijing suspects that Ma Ying-jeou has given up “eventual unification” with China as the final objective of his Kuomintang. The council and the guidelines must needs be revived to dispel that suspicion.

Unless it is sure he still wants Taiwan to be unified in the remote future, China won’t go along with any of his plans to bring more prosperity to the island through economic cooperation across the Strait.