The prospect of direct flights between Taiwan and China suddenly looks brighter. Prior predictions have all proven wrong, but now there are signs that such flights could follow a warming in relations.

First, there have been recent breakthroughs in shipping. Taipei has previously said that shipping could be a test case to iron out issues before allowing direct flights. Taiwan approved cross-strait shipping last year, but only to "offshore trans-shipment" points in Taiwan, and only to ships registered in third countries.

Now it has agreed with China that each other's shipping companies can operate directly from the other's ports to third countries - the same as fifth freedoms among airlines. And they have agreed that trans-shipment is no longer required for cargo between China and Taiwan, so long as it still passes through a third country. In return, China has opened several more ports, including Shanghai, to Taiwan ships. Shipping is still tightly controlled, but these changes represent major progress.

Second, two high-ranking Taiwanese officials have floated the idea of direct links with China. Chen Ruey-long, director general of Taiwan's Board of Foreign Trade, told reporters that Taipei would not rule out the possibility of opening direct postal and transport links in exchange for Beijing dropping objections to Taiwan joining the World Trade Organisation ahead of China. Then Chang King-yueh, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, told a business seminar that direct China trade could be conducted on an experimental basis through special economic and trade zones.

These events occur on the eve of an historic visit by Taiwan's top negotiator, Koo Chen-fu, to Shanghai and Beijing in mid-October where he was to meet his mainland counterpart as well as China's President Jiang Zemin.

Source: Airline Business