China and Taiwan started talks in mid-June this year after an almost ten year silence. As a first result, it was agreed to launch direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China. The first flight took off on Friday.
Passengers and crew stand behind a banner during a ceremony at Beijing airport before the departure of the flight for Taiwan
It’s early in the morning at Beijing Airport. Tourists are preparing to board the first direct flight to the island of Taiwan. Among the crowd are Mr. and Mrs. Feng, both 70 years old. Mrs. Feng is looking forward to the journey. “We are all set for the journey. We have had our health check-ups. We have done some exercises so that we are physically fit and do not fall ill,’’ she says.
The Fengs are two among 800 tourists from Communist China who were lucky to get hold of tickets for one of the first direct flights to Taiwan. The Fengs will be shelling out nearly 1000 Euros for the eight-day journey. This includes hotel expenses, sightseeing and meals.
Normally, these two pensioners would never have been able to afford this little vacation. But this is a gift from their children, who understood how much this journey meant for the two of them - to visit their fellow countrymen in Taiwan at least once in their life. For the Fengs this is a landmark moment. “With the Olympic Games coming soon to Peking, this flight also has a historic importance,’’ says Mrs Feng.
Yet even without the upcoming Olympic Games, the flights are historically significant. They are the first direct flights in over half a century.
A new beginning
Since the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan after the civil war in 1949, relations between mainland China and Taiwan have been strained. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has threatened to wage war if it declares independence. China was especially suspicious of the last president Chen Shuibian, who was in favour of an independent Taiwan.
Relations improved after a new government took over in Taiwan in May -- it has done away with any policies regarding independence from the mainland. The direct flights between the mainland and the island were agreed upon as one of the first reconciliatory gestures. “Our relations with Taiwan should begin well. They will play a big role in the future. That is good,” says Mrs. Feng.
Up until now, travellers visiting their relatives always had to change flights at Hong Kong. The direct flights have also simplified the lives of businessmen. The Chinese mainland is Taiwan’s most important business partner, and an increasing number of Taiwanese are investing in the mainland.
Warm welcome for tourists on either side
The Fengs have packed their best clothes for the journey. They want to show their best side to their Taiwanese compatriots, says Mrs. Feng.“This is not just a journey, we have a mission. We represent Peking. So we must give a good image,’’ she says.
As the plane touches down in Taiwan, a warm welcome awaits the passengers. Taiwanese lion dancers, singers in traditional dress, and even a lavish banquet. After all, this is a new chapter in Taiwan-China relations.