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UPDATE: Taiwan President Hails China Transport Links

Published: 17 Dec 2008 02:37:38 PST

(Adds details on shipping, flights, background)

TAIPEI (AFP)--Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou Monday hailed the start of daily flights and other transport links with China, saying they would lead to a further warming of relations between the two sides.

Four freighters from Taiwan's northern Keelung port and one each from the central Taichung and southern Kaohsiung ports set off for the mainland at about 10:30 a.m. (0230 GMT).

Earlier Monday, a plane carrying 144 passengers and crew took off from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for Taiwan at 7:20 a.m. and arrived at Taipei's Sungshan Airport 80 minutes later, the first direct daily flight across the Taiwan Strait.

In total, at least 12 airlines from the two sides are expected to fly more than 100 flights a week between Taiwanese and Chinese cities.

"Direct shipping and aviation across the strait represents rapprochement between the two sides," Ma said before a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Kaohsiung for the start of a direct shipping service.

"From now on, dialogue will replace opposition," Ma said, adding that he believed the transport links would have a far-reaching impact on ties.

"The two sides can work together for peace and prosperity," he added.

Ma's election as Taiwan's president in March, ending eight years of rule by the independence-minded Chen Shui-bian, triggered the warming of ties between the sides, which split at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Local shipping firms could save more than TWD4 billion ($120 million) each year due to shorter journey times, Ma said.

Vessels traveling between the two sides had been required to make a detour into a third country's territorial waters.

However, the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party warned that "the government, while telling people how much Taiwan would benefit from the direct transportation links, has ignored the possible negative impacts they may bring to the country."

"The opening of direct links indicate more frequent exchanges between the two sides, but the government has not prepared for the impact on national defense," the statement said.

Taipei and Beijing have agreed that neither the Taiwanese nor the Chinese flags will be flown when a ship enters port, Lai Shin-yuan of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top China policy-making body, said while attending a ceremony presided over by Premier Liu Chao-shiuan at Keelung port.

Local television images showed Taiwan's flight controllers talking directly for the first time to their Chinese counterparts in Shanghai.

The two sides also started a direct postal service Monday.

Direct transport, commercial and postal links had been cut since China and Taiwan split in 1949 after Kuomintang troops were defeated by the Chinese communist forces led by Mao Zedong and fled the mainland.

The first nonstop flights over the Taiwan Strait, which had to travel through Hong Kong airspace, were made during the Lunar New Year in early 2006.

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