(AFP) – Jun 12, 2008
BEIJING (AFP) — China and Taiwan signed historic agreements on Friday that from next month will see thousands more people travel every day between the two traditional rivals.
On the second day of landmark talks in Beijing aimed at easing decades of tensions, negotiators agreed to establish regular direct flights between China and Taiwan from July, finally ending time-consuming forced stopovers in Hong Kong.
They will also triple the number of mainland visitors allowed to travel to Taiwan each day to 3,000 in what promises to be a major boost for the island's tourism industry.
In a sign of the importance Beijing is placing on the developments, China's state-run national television broadcast the signing of the agreements between the heads of the semi-official delegations involved in the talks.
They are part of a rapprochement between China and Taiwan triggered by the election of the Kuomintang party's Ma Ying-jeou as the island's president in March.
Ma rose to power on a platform of building closer trade and political ties with China, in contrast to his predecessor Chen Shui-bian, who deeply angered Beijing with his efforts to steer Taiwan towards independence.
Trade and travel links between China and Taiwan have been severely restricted since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
China's communist rulers have insisted ever since that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary, and their relationship has been one of the world's most dangerous potential military flashpoints.
China stepped up its threats of using force against Taiwan while Chen was in power, and continued building up its stockpile of missiles and other military hardware targetted at the island.
However Ma's election victory, followed by his inauguration last month, has seen the temperature fall dramatically between the two sides.
Chinese President Hu Jintao met Kuomintang chief Wu Poh-hsiung in Beijing last month, during which agreement to restart the formal dialogue was reached.
That meeting was the first between the heads of the ruling parties of the two sides since Kuomintang forces retreated to the island in 1949 and the communists took power in Beijing.
In the agreement signed on Friday, the direct flights will begin on July 4 and involve 36 services between China and Taiwan each week. They will operate from Monday to Friday.
Carriers from each side will operate 18 flights, according to details of the agreement published on China's official Xinhua news agency.
From July 18, each side will be able to send 3,000 tourists to the other each day. Mainland Chinese tourists will have to travel in groups of between 10 and 40 and go through registered tour agencies, Xinhua reported.
Under current rules only 1,000 are allowed to travel to the island and they must stop over in Hong Kong or another third location. The only exception for that has been on national holidays, when direct charter flights operate.
On the first day of the talks, the two semi-official bodies also agreed to set up bureaus on each others' territories for the first time.
China and Taiwan do not have diplomatic relations so the offices of the two bodies -- China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation -- look likely to serve as conduits for ongoing dialogue.
The talks between the two organisations in Beijing this week were the first direct dialogue between the two sides in a decade.
China had suspended the process in 1999 amid acrimony over sovereignty.
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