Taiwan, China to launch direct shipping links
By ANNIE HUANG,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 18 minutes ago
TAIPEI, Taiwan - China and Taiwan will start a new era of direct air and shipping services Monday when planes and ships travel directly across the Taiwan Strait, formally ending a nearly six-decade ban on regular links.
Relations have improved between the once-bitter rivals since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May and moved to reverse the pro-independence policy of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian.
China has reacted warmly and although the mainland still claims sovereignty over the self-governed island, both have agreed to set aside thorny political disputes to focus on trade and economics.
The two sides split amid civil war in 1949.
Prominent politicians will attend inauguration ceremonies held in Taiwan and China on Monday for a move widely expected to boost trade and economic integration of the two longtime rivals.
The first Taiwanese ships, from Evergreen and Yang Ming Marine, are scheduled to leave from the island's Kaohsiung and Keelung harbors for Chinese ports about noon Monday. Ships with mainland companies, China Shipping and China Ocean Shipping, are to sail vessels to Taiwan from Shanghai and Tianjin, respectively.
Also Monday up to 60 cargo flights per month will start to fly between Taiwan and the mainland, according to agreements signed on Nov. 4.
Daily passenger flights will also start, with 16 scheduled Monday, in an expansion of weekend charter services inaugurated in July.
The direct services will result in cost savings and generate new businesses as both Taiwan and China feel the pinch of the global economic slowdown, said Chiang Pin-kung, head of Taiwan's semiofficial Straits Exchange Foundation.
"This will contribute greatly to our economic development," said Chiang, who signed the air and shipping pacts with his Chinese counterpart, Chen Yunlin.
With annual bilateral trade built up to about US$100 billion, Taiwanese businesses have pushed for years to end the ban on direct links across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) wide Taiwan Strait.
In the past, planes had to fly into Hong Kong airspace while traveling between the two sides. Cargo ships had to stop at the Japanese island of Okinawa northeast of Taiwan.
In Beijing, Xu Lirong, executive vice president of the China Ocean Shipping Group Company, said the direct shipping links will cut the cost of the company's related freight business by 30 percent.
"Direct shipping will undoubtedly bring new vigor to economic and trade ties between the mainland and Taiwan," China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xu as saying.
Under the pact signed last month, the mainland will open 48 sea ports and Taiwan will open 11 harbors for direct shipping.
Taiwan imposed the ban on regular links six decades ago. When former President Chen attempted to end it, China refused because of its deep distrust of him.
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