China, Taiwan begin direct flights

TAIPEI: The first weekend charter flight across the Taiwan Strait landed here on Friday amid expectation of many to commute between the two sides within a day.

More than 100 mainland tourists aboard the Airbus A330 of China Southern Airlines (CSA) became the first group on a sight-seeing tour allowed to Taiwan amid warming cross-Strait ties. The historic flight took off from Guangzhou, capital of China’s southern Guangdong Province.

Another four weekend chartered flights also took off on Friday morning from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Xiamen, respectively. Lee Maw-sheng, president of Taiwan Businessmen Association in Shanghai, was one of many business people applauding the service. “I can have breakfast at home in Taipei, fly to Shanghai for business and come back for supper with my family,” he said while waiting to board a flight at Shanghai Pudong Airport. He compared the weekend service to the first “rainbow” that appeared over the Taiwan Strait after the air between the two sides cleared.

The more frequent, less expensive weekend flights saved passengers more time and money, said a Taiwanese businessmanTaipei residents are happy that Taipei Songshan Airport is one of eight terminals on the island for the weekend service. Previous charter flights at festivals landed and took off at Taoyuan Airport, 40 km away from the city which handled international flights.

Travel time halved

At Taipei Songshan Airport, where most flights left for destinations around the island, actor Will Liu told the local media it was the first time for him not to get up at 4 a.m. to fly to the mainland. “I used to board the plane at Taoyuan Airport and transfer in Hong Kong on my way to Shanghai. It took about six hours and now the time is almost half,” he said.

Frequent travellers like him had witnessed charter flights across the Strait had expanded from one major festival to four and then every weekend since 2003. A total of 760 mainland tourists from the mainland are also on the unprecedented journey to Taiwan and will stay for 10 days.

“I have lots of friends in the mainland and always told them I would give them the best treat when they visited Taiwan. Now I can fulfil my promises,” said Taiwan singer Chow Wah-kin at the Beijing International Airport. In Beijing, a ceremony was held in the morning for the launch of the weekend charters as well as mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. Wang Yi, director of both the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Friday marked a new beginning in the history of cross-Strait exchanges.

The two sides now have a hard-won development opportunity, and direct contacts between the compatriots must be beefed up to enhance the mutual understanding and achieve new progress in the peaceful development of cross-Strait ties, he said. — Xinhua

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