Beijing has shown half its hand with an eleventh hour disclosure of its terms for renewing the Hong Kong-Taiwan air agreement that expires this month, but it has been less forthright about whether it will approve Hong Kong-Taiwan flights by foreign airlines under other bilaterals, or what criteria it will use.

Disclosure of China's 'four point principle' for Hong Kong-Taiwan came in typically offhand fashion. An unnamed official says any agreement must recognise the 'one China' principle; remain an inter-airline agreement; allow China's approval for renewal in five years; and keep equal airline numbers on both sides.

China's willingness to permit a five year renewal is the first clear signal that it will not use expiration of the current pact to insist on direct Taiwan-China flights.

But China's requirement of an equal number of airlines could frustrate hopes by EVA Air for a share of the lucrative route. Under Beijing's terms, that could happen only in the unlikely event EVA replaces China Airlines or Hong Kong awards Taiwan routes to both Cathay Pacific and Dragonair.

In view of the obstacles facing renewal, Taipei recently threatened to use Macau instead of Hong Kong as a gateway to China. But Ma Xiaowen, CAAC director for Hong Kong and Macau, insists that any Macau-Taiwan agreement comply with conditions that sound the same as for Hong Kong-Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group is slated to start discussions on Chinese review and approval of Hong Kong bilaterals extending past 1997, though Beijing has already criticised grants of Hong Kong-Taiwan sectors to foreign airlines.

Source: Airline Business