Jul 04

“Direct” flights commence between Taiwan and mainland

Written by Nimrod on Friday, July 4th, 2008 at 6:54 am
Filed under:education, Environment, media, News | Tags:, ,
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Today, without too much fuss, regular direct flights between mainland China and Taiwan began, fulfilling a campaign pledge of Ma Yingjiu. The flights run Friday-to-Monday between Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Taipei. As you can see from the maps (from Sina & Chinanews) below, all flights still route near Hong Kong airspace so they are “direct” only in the sense of not having to actually stop in Hong Kong or somewhere else. Still it’s the start of something new — the “direct” flights put major mainland cities within a one- to two-hour radius of Taiwan, make it possible for day trips back and forth, for business or leisure. This is a popular move. Why has it taken so long and why is this significant?

Despite their close economic and cultural links, Taiwan and mainland China did not have the so-called Three Links since the Civil War divided the country more than half a century ago. The two sides started opening to each other during the 80’s and throughout the 90’s. But during the late 90’s, with the growth of Taiwan independence politics, further cooperation on travel, tourism, and financial exchanges stalled. A bizarre situation developed in which the people of Taiwan could travel, study, and invest in the mainland with basically no restriction from the mainland, but mainland Chinese were kept at length from Taiwan, and certainly could not travel there except under special and specific sponsorship.

During Chen Shuibian‘s eight years in office, the question of direct flights was mired in political disputes within Taiwan about whether they could accept flights not explicitly labeled “international”. At first, the DPP played to its base and stonewalled on the ominous sounding but ultimately silly notion that the PRC would send paratroopers disguised as passengers, despite that “indirect” flights were flown between Taiwan and PRC-controlled Hong Kong and Macau all the time. (Also compare to today’s statement: Taiwan says they have “kept fully abreast of the movements of the Chinese military … in the face of closer exchanges across the Taiwan Strait”.) But in 2003, 2005, and later, amid general easing of independence politics, “direct” charter flights were tried on an increasing number of special holiday occasions, finally culminating in today’s announcement.

With the direct flights and the recent lifting of restrictions on RMB currency exchange in Taiwan and (a limited number of) tourists straight from the mainland, more ordinary Taiwanese will come into contact with ordinary mainland Chinese, which means hopefully we will see less of this with time:

Restaurant in Gaoxiong, southern Taiwan. The signs read “Attention President Jiang: Communist bandits have landed!” and “Refuse to serve Chinese” as well as some anti-KMT messages. (from Apple Daily)

In this view, one sign carries a Chen Shuibian quote: “Taiwan-China, one country on each side” and another: “Refuse to serve Communist bandits”. (from Apple Daily)

Edit: In fact, mainland tourists were welcomed with great fanfare at the two Taipei airports serving the links. I included these photos not because they are representative, but because they are uniquely “Taiwanese” scenes. In Taiwan’s raucous society, mainlanders may also run into local election ads, FLG and Tibetan protestors (according to Reuters), and …

…members of Taiwan’s China Patriotic One-Heart Union dressed up as PRC police. The signs read “Celebrate Chinese nation’s cross-strait direct flights” and “Welcome mainland compatriots”. (from Reuters)

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20 Responses to ““Direct” flights commence between Taiwan and mainland”

  1. A-gu Says:

    You have what I could characterize as one minor error in your post:
    “During Chen Shuibian’s eight years in office, the question of direct flights was mired in political disputes within Taiwan about whether they could accept flights not explicitly labeled ‘international’.”

    This is not true. The DPP was perfectly willing to accept flights not labeled as international; it just refused to allow them to be characterized as domestic. That is why when the Chinese side wanted to fly directly to Songshan domestic airport in Taipei, the DPP said “fine, but we will want to relabel the airport as an international airport, though we don’t have to label the flights international flights.” The Chinese side was not down with this idea.

  2. sun bin Says:

    do you have a hi-resolution map?


  3. vadaga Says:

    This is a nice step, hopefully we can have direct 1-hour flights from Shanghai to Taipei sometime in the near future.

  4. chorasmian Says:

    Well, as a citizen of PRC, it is fine for me to be called “communist bandits”. What I get from the message is that we are still in one country even though the Beijing government is treated as a rebellion. From my point of view, the population of Republic of China is 1+ billion, not just 20+ million, because the ROC administration shouldn’t drop out its countryman in mainland only because they are not directly under its governance. For me, personally I don’t care it is PRC or ROC, what I want is just one China.

  5. BMY Says:

    wow, this guy just wants to attract more “communist bandits” to his restaurant. I would like to be taken a photo with the sign if I go there. He is a marketing guy.

  6. Sino Federation Says:

    What Ma could learn from voters in Ireland

    “Worried their country would compromise its independence, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in a referendum last week.
    This was a serious setback for further integration of the EU.
    The Lisbon treaty thus stumbled over yet another referendum, inspiring a lot of unhappy Europeans who think that the EU equals Brussels and the euro. It was heartening for those who have doubts about the shrinking independence of member states and about giving over some of their countries’ national rights to the EU bureaucracy.
    Ma Ying-jeou promoted an EU-style union with China during his election campaign, but now that he has entered office, he is adopting a two-handed strategy, sidestepping the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty when talking to China while wishfully thinking that he can leave it to China to fix Taiwan’s economy.”


  7. pug_ster Says:

    I think this is the first step between good relations between the 2 countries, as the people flying between the 2 countries are guests and tourists and should keep their political views to themselves. Hopefully these Taiwanese shopkeepers should also acknowledge the fact too.

  8. Nimrod Says:


    Thanks. There was also local politics about scrapping the Songshan Airport altogether, so it’s a bit more complicated but yes, the question was always about whether the flights would be seen as “international” or “domestic”. Happily, both Taoyuan Airport and Songshan Airport are involved this time, so the problem seems to have been worked around. More Taiwan cities will be involved, and I believe inevitably, the flight routes will “straighten out” to become truly direct flights. The Shanghai-Taipei route would benefit the most in time savings and should, as there are 100,000+ Taiwanese in Shanghai.

    sun bin,

    These are the only maps I found from the news.

  9. Buxi Says:


    I don’t know if I agree with your version of history when it comes to flights during the Chen Shuibian era. From what I understand, the mainland position was that it wanted to replicate the Hong Kong/Taiwan formula. Taiwan refused to negotiate on that front, with the sole exception of charter flights open only to Taiwan residents.

    (Flights to Hong Kong and Macau are always classified along with international flights as “outside of the border”, within mainland China. Adding Taiwan flights within the same rough, non-political category should not be an issue with the mainland.)

    This is a great step forward. Once this particular genie is out of the bottle, I don’t think any pan-Green politician is going to be able to close it. It’s one thing to “deny” economic opportunity to Taiwanese by keeping tourists from every arriving… but it’s another thing entirely to put thousands of people out of work by cutting off an existing customer base.

    It’s a good thing Taiwan has more than that one Gaoli restaurant… or us poor gongfei would starve to death.

  10. Hemulen Says:

    But during the late 90’s, with the growth of Taiwan independence politics, further cooperation on travel, tourism, and financial exchanges stalled.

    As much as I may disagree with some of Lee’s political maneuvering or A-bian’s antics, cooperation stalled in the 90s because of the rigid stand of the PRC government, not the other way around. The PRC chose to threaten Taiwan with missile tests, no one in the world forced it to do that. Currently, the PRC has softened the rhetoric, but it still threatens to start WWIII over Taiwan. Let’s be absolutely clear about that before we cast blame on others.

    We can quibble over this, but if the mainland Chinese people had an informed choice in this matter, I do not they would support the stand of its government. Far from securing the Anschluss of Taiwan to China, a war would devastate mainland China and possibly lead to the secession of restive western regions. The US would in all likelihood be drawn in, as would Japan and many of China’s immediate neighbors. If the conflict could be limited to East Asia, India, Europe and possibly Latin America would benefit from the power vacuum, but that’s just my guess. The losers would be the Chinese people.

    The point is that PRC intransigence on the Taiwan is a threat to world peace, which is just as great as US-Israeli adventurism on Iran.

  11. Buxi Says:


    I agree with part of you on this point. I think rigid, hard-line tactics from Beijing were responsible for tensions in the mid to late ’90s. It takes two to tango of course, but considering the positions that Beijing is taking today… well, clearly, there was a lot of room to give even back then.

    I disagree with you on the attitudes of mainland Chinese today, however. If you believe that “informed” Taiwanese are willing to bet their economic success in service of Taiwanese nationalism… why’s it so hard to believe that “informed” mainland Chinese would also be willing to bet their economic success to do the same?

    I think the attitude the government is taking today, that we should build bonds on the basis of “one China” and recognition of a shared national heritage, is shared by the vast majority of Chinese. If Beijing today suddenly decided to launch a war in this atmosphere (“as a way of distracting attention from domestic problems”)… well, I personally would be opposed to it.

  12. Sino Federation Says:

    Many different states existed throughout China’s history.
    So why can’t there be “One China, Many States”, with Tibet and Taiwan being a state?

    After all, there is “One USA, 50 States”.
    There is also the EU model and Commonwealth model.

  13. DJ Says:

    Sino Federation,

    I suppose Beijing would agree to an “one China, many states” solution in the “one USA, 50 states” template in a heartbeat. Now, how would the federal government be formed? …

  14. Sino Federation Says:


    I was’nt expecting a solution so soon, since brighter minds have dwelled on it. There is no survey or referendum, but based on the many Chinese views on one China, having “one China, many states” is unthinkable to them, almost equivalent to splitting China.

    The fear is that Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang still want to go their separate ways.

  15. Hemulen Says:


    I am happy to note that we both agree on the futility of a war…

  16. caoshiren Says:

    The “Refuse to serve Communist bandits” guy may be a marketing genius. There wouldn’t be many mainland tourists to visit his small restaurant anyway, and this slogan may bring him tons of deep-green locals.

  17. Buxi Says:

    @Sino Federation,

    There is no survey or referendum, but based on the many Chinese views on one China, having “one China, many states” is unthinkable to them, almost equivalent to splitting China.

    You’re mixing in two different definitions of the term “state”.

    In the context of the United States, the individual “states” have no international presence, and as the Civil War proved pretty convincingly, they do not have the right to unilaterally secede and declare independence. I think the vast majority of Chinese would love that kind of a solution for Taiwan. And to answer DJ’s question about the federal government… let’s go with the American model, one house of the legislature based on population, and the other house of the legislature based on some sort of geographic distribution.

    Sign me up!

    The “multiple states” model as proposed by some in Taiwan is something else. It depends on who’s talking and when they’re talking, but basically, it means two separate internationally-recognized countries with no claims or ties to each other beyond what exists for all countries.

  18. Buxi Says:

    A follow-up, courtesy of the Guardian:


    Following a weekend of blanket media coverage of the event in Taiwan, the island’s people are learning that not all their communist-ruled cousins are, in fact, ill-mannered, unsophisticated bumpkins.

    That mainland Chinese can be not only affluent but well mannered is little surprise to most nations, but the Taiwanese have long compensated for their numerical inferiority – 23m as against 1.3bn – with a well-developed sense of patronising condescension.

    …However, at least someone has had his expectations overturned – Lin Ming-the, a Taiwanese environmental activist, who admitted he had failed in his plan to catch Chinese tourists dropping litter at one tourist attraction. He admitted his mistake:

    I thought the Chinese were untidy.

  19. Charmed Says:

    High-end China tourists charm Taiwan on first weekend

    “These were key groups of tourists, and they were specially screened,” said Deputy National Immigration Agency Director Steve Wu. “It’s a good sign, a good start from political, economic and cultural standpoints.”

    Tourists stayed in high-end Taiwan hotels, went mall shopping as instructed and smiled for the media instead of spitting, yelling or stirring political disputes as some on the island had feared, hospitality officials said.



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