|Chinese mainland, Taiwan start direct transport, mail services|
BEIJING, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese mainland and Taiwan started direct air and sea transport and postal services on Monday morning, the latest step to improve once-strained ties.
Formerly, air and sea movements -- including mail -- had to go by way of a third place.
The direct daily transport started as a mainland-based Shenzhen Airlines flight took off from the Shenzhen Airport for Taiwan at 7:20 a.m.. More than 40 minutes later, a Taiwan-based Trans Asia Airways jetliner left Taipei for Shanghai.
The flight time from Shanghai to Taipei has been cut by more than one hour, to 80 minutes, as planes are no longer required to fly through Hong Kong's airspace, a detour that the Taiwan authorities formerly insisted on citing security concerns.
The Mainland's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Executive Deputy Director, Zhang Lizhong, said the start of direct flights marked a key step in the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.
"Given the global financial crisis, cross-Straits direct flights started at exactly the right time," Zheng said at a ceremony in Shanghai. Direct links "will help the mainland and Taiwan jointly overcome the current (economic) difficulty," Zheng said.
Under a historic agreement signed by the mainland and Taiwan in early November, the two sides agreed to launch charter cargo flights between two mainland terminals, Pudong in Shanghai and Guangzhou airports, and two Taiwan terminals, Taoyuan and Kaohsiung.
There will be 60 return cargo flights per month, evenly divided between mainland and Taiwan airlines.
The two sides also agreed to launch regular passenger charter flights, which formerly only flew on weekends and the four major traditional festivals.
The mainland agreed to open another 16 terminals for passenger charter flights, besides the five already opened, while Taiwan has already opened eight terminals. The number of flights will increase to 108 every week, also divided evenly, with the number to be adjusted according to demand.
DIRECT SEA AND MAIL LINKS
Monday also marked the start of direct shipping and postal services across the Taiwan Straits.
Mainland resident Zheng Jian, 81, who was born in Taiwan, posted a letter to his Taiwan relatives at a ceremony on Monday morning in Beijing.
Zheng left Taiwan for the mainland to attend college shortly before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
"What is good for me is that with direct postal service, I can mail the herbal medicine I bought here to my sister in Taiwan directly," he said.
A similar ceremony was held in Taipei, at which Taiwan's Chunghwa Post Co., Ltd. Chairman Wu Min-Yu posted an express letter to Liu Andong, president of the mainland's China Post Corp.
An employee of Chunghwu Post told Xinhua that the mail was scheduled to leave on a 10 a.m. flight from Taipei to Beijing. "Mr. Liu will probably receive the mail before he leaves his office this afternoon," the staffer said.
The mainland and Taiwan didn't have direct express mail service in the past. Ordinary or registered mail from Taiwan to the mainland first went through the Hong Kong or Macao Special Administrative Regions, then to distribution centers in Beijing or Shanghai before it was delivered.
With the start of direct air and shipping services, Taiwan transport authorities estimated that the delivery time of ordinary letters from Taiwan to Beijing or Shanghai will be shortened to five to six days from the previous seven to eight days.
To speed up mail services, the mainland has agreed to open three more delivery centers in Nanjing, Xi'an and Chengdu in addition to the previous five centers -- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Fuzhou.
Taiwan also agreed to add three centers -- Kaohsiung, Kinmen and Matsu -- to those already functioning, which were Taipei and Keelung.
Also on Monday morning, a freighter of the mainland-based China Shipping Group left Tianjin port for Keelung in Taiwan, starting the first direct voyage across the Straits. Shortly afterwards, another mainland cargo ship left Taicang port in eastern Jiangsu Province for the island.
Mei Zhengrong, director of the Taicang Port Management Office, said the vessels no longer need to make detours to southwestern Japan's Ishigaki island en route to Taiwan.
"The distance and time from Taicang to a Taiwan port will be shortened by 200 nautical miles and 36 hours," Mei told Xinhua. "It will reduce fuel and visa costs by 10,000 U.S. dollars each trip."
Mainland transport authorities have estimated that direct shipping would help the two sides reduce the annual aggregate shipping times by 110,000 hours and transportation costs by 100 million U.S. dollars.
Under the agreement on direct shipping, passenger and cargo vessels owned by mainland and Taiwan companies may sail directly across the Straits subject to official approval.
The mainland will open 63 ports to Taiwan ships while Taiwan will open 11. The two sides might increase the number of ports based on a "developing situation," according to the agreement.
SIGN OF RECONCILIATION
With annual bilateral trade volume surpassing 100 billion U.S. dollars, the new direct links were welcomed by most on both sides. Ceremonies to mark the direct links drew many dignitaries and business tycoons.
State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi and Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan met at a port in Tianjin to celebrate the start of cross-Straits direct shipping.
"Today is another memorable date in the history of cross-Straits relations ... which signifies that our 30-year effort has finally paid off," Wang said.
Wang said direct shipping links will greatly cut costs, boost cross-Straits trade and personnel exchanges and provide a "new impetus" for the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.
He said the start of direct transport and mail services showed that regardless of difficulties, anything could be realized so long as it would benefit compatriots across the Straits and meet development needs.
"The peaceful development of cross-Straits relations is unstoppable," he said.
In Taiwan, Taiwan leader Ma Ying-Jeou attended a ceremony at the Kaohsiung port.
Calling the direct links a symbol of "reconciliation" between the island and the mainland, Ma expressed the hope that the two sides could work together for common peace and prosperity.
Ma said he was "happy and satisfied" because direct cross-Straits links marked an era of negotiation and reconciliation instead of confrontation between the two sides.