A new raft of shipping and air services pacts established between Taiwan and China officially went into effect Saturday, setting the stage for the historic Dec. 15 launch of direct shipping, air cargo charter and daily passenger charter services across the Taiwan Strait.
Among the ships scheduled to take part in the inaugural direct sailing Monday will be two vessels belonging to Evergreen Marine Corp. and Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp., respectively, both named "Taiwan." One will embark from Taiwan's Kaohsiung Port bound for China's port of Tianjin, while the other will set said from Keelung, bound for Shanghai.
The day will also see two Chinese vessels, each named "China, " put out from Chinese ports to make the direct crossing across the Taiwan Strait to ports in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the first direct cross-strait cargo charter flight will be provided by China Southern Airlines and is scheduled to take off at 3 p.m. from Guangzhou for the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, according to Civil Aeronautics Administration officials.
The earliest daily passenger flights available that day will be provided by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways and China's China Eastern Airlines and will take off 8 a.m. from Taipei for Shanghai and from Shanghai for Taoyuan, respectively.
The shipping and air agreements were signed Nov. 4 in Taipei by Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits President Chen Yunlin -- who as the heads of the semi-official intermediary bodies serve as the top negotiators representing either side -- upon the conclusion of their second round of talks in five months since cross-strait dialogue was resumed in June.
The shipping services agreement allows Taiwanese-owned and Chinese-owned vessels to sail directly across the Taiwan Strait, without having to make a detour through Ishigaki Island in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture.
The new direct services are also expected to double the number of Chinese tourists -- to 600. Beijing still restricts the regions from which its tourists can originate and carefully screens them, as does Taiwan. That has a negative impact on tourism. Further, at present Chinese tourists can only fly on Chinese airlines. Taiwan should probably focus on getting more $$ out of countries that not only spend more money, but love to send tourists here, Korea and Japan. It's a shame that the ideology of the KMT lacks the kind of imagination necessary to erect a Japanese colonial period nostalgia route that might attract even more Japanese tourists.