Taiwan and mainland Chinese aviation authorities row over extra flights for Lunar New Year

Lawrence Chung

Aviation authorities in Taiwan and mainland China have traded barbs over the number of cross-strait flights during Lunar New Year – which falls two weeks after the island’s presidential election.

Beijing has accused Taipei of rejecting the mainland’s side offer to increase the number of charter flights between January 4 and February 15 next year.

But the Taiwan authorities dismissed this charge, saying the two sides had yet to discuss the topic.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said its officials “have many times sought to negotiate with their Taiwanese counterparts over the holiday flight increases between January 4 and February 15, only to be clearly rejected by the aviation executives in Taiwan”.

This year saw 418 charter flights running over the holiday period and the CAAC said it had offered to increase the number in 2020 to help people living on both sides of the strait travel home for Lunar New Year’s Day on January 25.

Last year saw 419 charter flights over the holiday period. Photo: EPA-EFE

But the Civil Aeronautics Administration in Taiwan said the two sides were still in the process of investigating how many extra flights were needed, and were yet to touch on the subject of additional charter flights.

“The [accusation] that Taiwan refuses to increase holiday charter flights is totally groundless,” a CAA spokesman said.

The two sides officially started regular cross-strait flights in 2009, allowing carriers from both jurisdictions to travel directly to the other side without having to pass through a third-party country or area – usually Hong Kong.

The two sides have been rivals since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, which saw the defeated Nationalist forces fleeing to the island, where they established an interim government.

Beijing has always regarded Taiwan as a renegade province that must eventually return to the mainland fold – by force if necessary – and ongoing tensions with the present independence-leaning administration have seen a sharp fall in the number of scheduled flights after mainland citizens were banned from making solo visits to the island.

But there is a still a strong demand for holiday charter flights over the Lunar New Year holiday, and this will only become stronger as a result of the presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan on January 11.

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“Demand is extremely strong this year as all the regular flights around the election period are fully booked and we hope the two sides can provide more charter flights to satisfy the growing need. But up to now, the Taiwanese side has yet to take action,” Taiwanese travel agent Chang Hui-mei said.

She said that mainland airlines were offering very competitive prices for mainland-based Taiwanese who wanted to return to Taiwan for the holiday and to vote.

From Beijing to Taipei, a round-trip ticket costs 2,000 yuan (US$285) and from Shanghai to Taipei, just 1,600 yuan.

Passengers board the first Taiwanese charter flight at Shanghai’s Pudong airport in 2003. Direct flights officially began six years later. Photo: AP

Li Cheng-hung, president of the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland, called on the Taiwanese authorities to help meet the strong demand for flights that will allow mainland-based Taiwanese to return home to vote and celebrate the holiday.

“The [Taiwanese] government has the responsibility to help its businessmen resolve their homecoming needs,” Li said, adding if the authorities do not want to increase the number of charter flights they should clearly explain to the public why there was no such need.

The island’s election laws require voters to turn up to the polling station in person and do not allow for postal votes.

Taiwanese news media have identified mainland-based Taiwanese businesspeople, their dependents and students as one of the most important groups of voters.

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At present, more than 400,000 such Taiwanese live on the mainland, according to official statistics, but the true figure is believed to at least double that number as many who do not have residency status work there on an irregular basis.

To protect their own interests, many Taiwanese businessmen and women on the mainland are believed to favour mainland-friendly candidates rather than supporters of independence.

In next year’s election, Beijing is believed to favour Han Kuo-yu from the main opposition party Kuomintang over incumbent Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, has angered Beijing by refusing to accept the one-China policy since her election victory in 2016.

Taiwan’s CAA said it had long taken note of the demand for flights over Lunar New Year. “Because of the recent cut in the cross-strait flights, we need to find out exactly how many seats are in need to carry passengers from the two sides home for their holidays,” the CAA spokesman said.

This article Taiwan and mainland Chinese aviation authorities row over extra flights for Lunar New Year first appeared on South China Morning Post

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