Now you're talking. Or are they? Politically sparring partners, Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, may be nearing the negotiating table, but they're still skirting around aviation issues.

Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and Prime Minister Vincent Siew have both declared that talks on direct transport, trade, and postal links with China are premature. 'It is not yet time to open the three links,' President Lee told a group of Taipei business people. Taiwanese reticence to talk contrasts with Chinese President Jiang Zemin's offer to open dialogue on the links in late October.

China has removed one of the obstacles blocking talks by dropping its insistence that Taiwan treat them as a local administrative meeting with the central government. However, China's unwillingness to renounce use of force against any attempted Taiwanese independence remains a major roadblock to improved cross-strait relations.

Local elections at the end of November 1997 have further complicated Taiwan's position. For the first time, the Democratic Progressive Party outpolled the Nationalists, who have controlled Taiwan since General Chiang Kei-shek was defeated on the mainland and retreated to Taiwan in 1949. The Democratic Progressive Party has openly advocated Taiwan's independence and its chairman recently proposed an immediate start of talks with China on the three links. The DPP's recent poll victory was only in local elections, but it nevertheless strengthens the party's hand in national debate.

Direct links may not be on Taiwan's agenda yet, but its Mainland Affairs Committee recently approved direct talks between Taiwan's civil aviation authority and its mainland counterpart over an airspace issue. It stems from Taiwan's decision to install an instrument landing system at Jinmen airport to avoid adjoining hills. Aircraft using this revised approach must fly through China's airspace, and could conflict with landing procedures at China's Xiamen airport, only 14 miles away. Even worse, unauthorised flights pose the risk of having an aircraft shot down.

While the Taiwanese stall over talks with China, Taiwan's EVA Airways is keen to bring discussions with Hong Kong forward. EVA Airways wants to reopen Hong Kong-Taiwan bilateral talks, though the accord is not up for review until 2000. Richard Huang, EVA's president, complains that the bilateral discriminates against EVA. 'We have only 16 flights a week versus China Airlines and Cathay Pacific, which have more than 100 flights a week.'

Huang argues that the excuse given for limiting EVA's flights, namely Hong Kong's restricted slots, will not apply after Chek Lap Kok airport opens in April 1998.

David Knibb

Source: Airline Business