Taiwan's aeropolitical relations with third countries are experiencing mixed fortunes at the hands of Beijing after China spoiled plans by EVA Air to fly to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, while being less vociferious in its opposition to China Airlines serving Russia for the first time.

After the signing of the bilateral with Cambodia last December, EVA was due to launch flights from 10 April. But at the last minute some 600 passengers, who had already made bookings on the Taipei-Phnom Penh service, had to be re-routed via Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

The Taiwanese carrier accused Beijing of 'obstruction', a claim backed by a government official in Phnom Penh, who confirmed China had demanded the December air pact be scrapped. Luo Gan, secretary general of China's State Council, visited Cambodia in March and is understood to have insisted air rights be withdrawn.

Beijing insists nations which recognise China must get its approval before signing agreements with Taiwan, regarded as a rebel province by the People's Republic. A Reuters report quoted a Chinese Embassy official in Phnom Penh as saying; 'Any official agreement with Taiwan is not acceptable to China.'

Sources at EVA say that despite signing the bilateral on 18 December, the Cambodian government blocked the startup of services after informing the airline it 'had not yet reached a consensus' on Taipei-Phnom Penh flights.

In Taipei, the director of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration, Tsai Tui, says the he will not seek any further negotiations with Cambodia on the bilateral because it has been finalised and signed.

Taipei appears to have been more successful in opening air links with Russia for the first time. This is mainly due to the fact that following improved relations between China and Russia, Beijing is unlikely to want to upset Moscow by interfering along Cambodian lines. Nevertheless, Taipei has scored more geopolitical than aeropolitical points in its first bilateral with Russia. Taipei can derive the most satisfaction from completing the pact after being forced by Beijing to shelve an agreement with Moscow four years ago.

The differing responses from Taiwan's foreign ministry and transport ministry reveal the new accord's strengths and weaknesses. James Wang, director of West Asian affairs in Taiwan's foreign ministry, praises it as 'the opening of a new chapter' in Taiwan-Russia relations. By contrast, Tsai Duei, director of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration, calls the deal 'acceptable' but not 'satisfactory.'

The biggest disappointment for aviation officials is their failure to gain fifth freedom rights over Moscow to Europe. As no Russian airline requested Taiwanese beyond rights, Moscow was unwilling to grant Taiwan comparable rights beyond Russia. Taiwan also failed to gain overflight rights for European nonstops. At present Taiwanese carriers cross Indochina and the Middle East, adding two hours to every European flight.

Without fifth freedom rights, Taipei did not press for dual designation, and the final accord allows only one airline per side. It restricts each carrier to two weekly Moscow-Taipei round trips, with Transaero and China Airlines set to launch flights in May. But the prospects for the route look poor and CAL expects to lose money since only 12,000 Taiwanese and 1,600 Russians visited each other's countries last year.


Source: Airline Business