July 4, 2008

Chinese Agency Reports “Historic” Cross-Strait Flights

Text of report in English by official Chinese news agency Xinhua (New China News Agency)

[Xinhua "China Focus": "Historic Weekend Charter Flights launched Across Taiwan Strait"]

BEIJING, July 4 (Xinhua) - The first cross-Strait weekend charter flight from China's mainland to Taiwan took off at 6:31 a.m. Friday from Guangzhou, capital city of the southern Guangdong Province.

The historic flight, carried out by an Airbus A330 of the China Southern Airlines (CSA), landed at Taipei Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan at 8:10 a.m.

The flight has 258 passengers, including more than 100 mainland tourists who are among the first group of people on a sightseeing tour allowed to Taiwan amid warming ties across the Taiwan Strait.

"I have been expecting to visit Taiwan, the Treasure Island, and my dream will finally come true today," mainland tourist Shi Anwei told Xinhua before boarding the plane. "I was too excited to sleep last night."

Some 760 Chinese mainland tourists took the first weekend charter flights to Taiwan from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xiamen and Guangzhou on Friday. On the same day, airlines in Taiwan also launched first weekend charter flights from Taipei, Taichung, Kao Hsiung, Hua-lien and Penghu.

A flight from Xiamen of eastern Fujian Province took off at 7:16 a.m. The flight, MF881 by the Xiamen Airlines with 203 passengers, arrived at the Songshan Airport of Taipei at 8:44 a.m.

Dim sum was laid on especially, with a local Fujian flavor. Air hostesses, dressed in traditional Chinese clothing of qipao, staged a self-made local dance performance during the flight.

Each passenger witnessing the historic moment received a gift from the airline of a model plane and map of Taiwan.

At a ceremony in East China's Nanjing City, Zheng Lizhong, mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) executive vice-chairman, said the start of the weekend charter flight and beginning of the mainland tourists' visit to Taiwan "is destined to open a new chapter in cross-Strait cultural and economic exchanges."

Xia Xinghua, director of the east China bureau of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said that since Shanghai was chosen as the first city for cross-Strait flight operation five years ago, "there has been a small step forward each year, but they have amounted to a major step in the past five years."

"The ever more frequent and convenient flights across the Strait are not only an improved means of transportation, they are also an emotional and cultural bridge for the people, and have changed the way of thinking of both sides," Xia said.

However, he noted that real direct flight hadn't been realized yet as all of the planes flew to Taipei by way of Hong Kong airspace.

Quoting Dr Sun Yat-sen, the great pioneer of Chinese democratic revolution, the official said, "the real success is still in front and we need to work harder."

The first charter flight from Nanjing started at 8:05 a.m.

In Beijing, the first weekend charter flight, CA 185, took off at about 8:30 a.m., after a brief ceremony attended by mainland's Taiwan affairs chief Wang Yi, director of CAAC head Li Jiaxiang, and director of the National Tourism Administration Shao Qiwei.

Wang, director of both the Taiwan Work Office of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that the day marked a new beginning in cross- Strait exchanges.

Cross-Strait relations have been presented with a hard-won development opportunity, and direct contacts between compatriots on both sides must be beefed up to enhance their mutual understanding and achieve new progress in the peaceful development of cross- Strait ties, he said.

Wang said mainland tourists were from many provinces but shared the same aspiration of bringing to their Taiwan compatriots the love of the mainland people. He expressed the belief that the Taiwan compatriots would embrace the tourists with a warm welcome.

"Regular flights across the Taiwan Strait would definitely boost the civil aviation market in the Asia-Pacific region and even the world," said Yang Guoqing, deputy head of CAAC.

Shao said that tourism helped build bridges of peace and friendship. Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan would set up such a bridge across the Strait, he said.

Twenty minutes later, the last flight, from Shanghai, left Pudong International Airport.

Weekend charter flights across the Taiwan Straits, which came after the launch of charter flights on Spring Festival and then the launch of charter flights on major Chinese traditional festivals, formally began on July 4 this year. There are charter flights on four whole days from Friday to Monday.

Originally published by Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 0918 4 Jul 08.

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