Many Taiwanese students in China without tickets home for holiday

In this Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 photo, passengers crowd outside the Beijing railway station on the last day of Chinese Lunar New Year holidays in Beijing. Millions of Chinese are returning to work in the capital city after spending a week-long Lunar New Year holiday with families in their hometown. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Taipei, Feb. 5 ─ Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese students in China do not have plane tickets to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday in the wake of a cross-Taiwan Strait dispute over a controversial aviation route, a Taiwanese student association leader said Monday.

Chiu Rong-li (邱榮利), head of the China-based Taiwan Students Solidarity Headquarters, cited an internal survey as showing that about 1,000 Taiwanese students have not been able to book plane tickets home for the Feb. 15-20 holiday after their flights were canceled by China-based China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Air.

China Eastern Airlines, Xiamen Airlines announced the abolition of overtime in the Spring Festival. Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese students in China do not have plane tickets to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday. (photo credit: NOWNews)

The two airlines canceled 176 extra Lunar New Year flights after Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) delayed approval of their applications to operate the flights to protest China’s launch of four new air routes in early January.

“They don’t know what to do now that their booked flights have been canceled,” Chiu said at a news conference called by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers Lee Yan-hsiu (李彥秀)and Chen Shei-saint (陳學聖).

Lee lashed out at the government for using Taiwanese students and businesspeople as bargaining chips in dealing with China.

“They are entitled to come home for the New Year holiday; it’s their basic right,” Lee said, and she slammed the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for failing to come up with effective measures to solve the problem.

Chen criticized the Tsai administration’s inability to respond to the repeated circling of Chinese military aircraft around Taiwan over the past six months and questioned why it was making a fuss now over the Lunar New Year flights?

“The government should stop doing so because it will only affect our own people,” he said.

Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪), legislative caucus chief of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, hit back at the KMT, saying it should blame Beijing for its crude behavior rather than siding with it.

The lawmaker also said the government is fully ready to help Taiwanese nationals in China to make it home for the holiday, a reference perhaps to a government plan to use military aircraft to fly people home from outlying Kinmen County.

Under such a scenario, Taiwanese passengers will have to use the “mini-three links” mechanism established between the two sides in 2001.

That would require them to travel to Xiamen in Fujian province first and then take a ferry to Taiwan-held Kinmen just 15 kilometers away before boarding flights bound for Taiwan.

(By Wang Cheng-chung and Flor Wang)