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Flights Carry Dreams to Taiwan
Update: 7/6/2008 3:34:00 AM Source: Taipei Hotel



The China Southern Airlines plane carrying the first group of mainland tourists of the day to arrive in Taiwan from Guangzhou, gets a water salute to mark its arrival at the Taoyuan International Airport on Friday. (Reuters)

TAIPEI: Cross-Straits relations entered a new era on Friday, as tourist groups arrived in Taiwan on the first "weekend charter flights" from the mainland.

The historic event has been hailed as a major boost for cross-Straits exchanges.

A total of 750 tourists in 26 tour groups from five mainland cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen - flew to Songshan and Taoyuan airports in Taipei. They were greeted with red carpets, flowers, traditional Chinese lion dances, folk performances and lots of media attention.

The warm welcome was followed later on Friday by a lavish gala banquet hosted by Taiwan's tourism bureau.

Local media quoted Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou, whose campaign promise was to launch weekend cross-Straits charter flights and Taiwan tours for mainlanders, as saying the tour program "is a pioneer work in 60 years" across the Straits.

When a China Southern Airlines Airbus A330 - the first mainland charter flight to arrive on the island - landed in Taoyuan airport at 8:05 am, fire trucks shot water at it in a welcome gesture.

Members of the first tourist group to Taiwan from Shanghai board a China Eastern charter flight at Pudong International Airport on Friday. (Gao Erqiang)

"This is a special moment. The two sides of the Straits are now really like members of one family," China Southern Chairman Liu Shaoyong, who piloted the flight from Guangzhou, said.

The weekend charter service is the first since 1949.

"Today is a new start in the history of cross-Straits exchanges," Wang Yi, minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said at a seeing-off ceremony in Beijing.

"Cross-Straits relations are facing a rare opportunity for development," he said.

Before boarding an Air China flight to Taiwan from Beijing, Shao Qiwei, head of the National Tourism Administration, said the regular flights will "build a bridge of friendship" with Taiwan's 23 million "hospitable compatriots".

"The opening of Taiwan to mainland tourists ... will create a scenic route across the Straits," he said.

Wang Liqi, a 73-year-old tourist from Beijing, said he was overjoyed to visit the island.

"It's a precious gift for me, as I realized my dream of seeing the island with my own eyes in my lifetime," he said.

It was the first time Taiwan had received such a large number of mainland tourists at one time. Taipei used to allow mainland people to visit the island only for business or to visit relatives.

Under two historic deals signed in Beijing last month, Taipei agreed to open the island to mainland tourists and launch weekend charter flights.

In the first year, Taiwan will receive a maximum of 3,000 mainland tourists per day, and will raise the quota as it expands the weekend charter flights to daily charter flights and eventually to regular flights.

Thirty-six round-trip flights will be made every week across the Taiwan Straits, operating from Friday to Monday between six Taiwan airports and five on the mainland.


In Shanghai, Alex Lee, chairman of the Shanghai Association of Taiwan Businessmen Invested Enterprises, said: "As businessmen from Taiwan are allowed to travel on a regular basis, I believe there will be more opportunities for business cooperation across the Straits."

Shanghai is home to more than 300,000 Taiwan people, more than a quarter of all those from the island living or working on the mainland.

One hundred tourists from Shanghai took off for Taiwan on Friday afternoon; many of them have relatives there.

Liang Dianfu was excited about the places he planned to see in Taiwan.

"We've heard so much about Taiwan," Liang, who traveled with four family members, said. "Today I led perhaps the biggest family delegation to visit the dream island."


In Nanjing, 100 tourists from Jiangsu province boarded China Eastern Airlines flight MU5001 at 8 am on Friday, bound for Songshan Airport in Taipei.

Taiwan businesspeople in Nanjing used to have to fly from Shanghai to Taiwan, which took them about 6 to 7 hours, including the stopover in Hong Kong or Macao. Now they can get there in three hours.

The distance between Nanjing and Taipei is less than 1,000 km, so when direct flights are opened, the flying time will be reduced to about an hour.

In another development, correspondents from two of Chinese mainland news organizations, the Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily, resumed reporting activities in Taiwan on Friday, after a three-year suspension.

Editor: canton fair

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