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Taiwan, China launch direct shipping links

Taiwan, China launch direct shipping links

Taipei:  A Taiwanese plane departed Monday for China to open a new era of direct air and shipping services with the mainland, formally ending a nearly six-decade ban on regular links between the rivals.

The passenger flight from Taipei to China's commercial capital of Shanghai came following an improvement in relations between the once-bitter rivals since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May and moved to reverse the pro-independence policy of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian.

China has reacted warmly and although the mainland still claims sovereignty over the self-governed island, both have agreed to set aside thorny political disputes to focus on trade. The two sides signed a pact last month to open up the direct links.

The first Taiwanese ships were scheduled to leave from Kaohsiung and Keelung harbors for Chinese ports about noon Monday. Mainland companies were to sail vessels to Taiwan from Shanghai and Tianjin.

Monday also marked the start of cargo flights between the two that will number up to 60 per month, according to agreements signed Nov. 4.

Daily passenger flights also were being launched, with 16 scheduled for Monday, in an expansion of weekend charter flights inaugurated in July.

With annual bilateral trade at about US$100 billion, Taiwanese businesses have pushed for years to end the ban on direct links across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) wide Taiwan Strait.

In Beijing, Xu Lirong, executive vice president of the China Ocean Shipping Group Company, said the direct shipping links will cut the cost of the company's related freight business by 30 percent.

Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying it would "bring new vigor to economic and trade ties" between the two sides.

Taiwan imposed the ban on regular links six decades ago. Former President Chen attempted to end it but failed to strike a deal with the mainland because of its deep distrust of him.  [15/12/08]