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June 29, 2017

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Gov't to lift ban on Taiwan flights flying over China

Premier Frank Hsieh yesterday said the government would lift a decades-old ban preventing Taiwanese commercial aircraft from flying over China's airspace.

Hsieh said the government was willing to lift the ban to help local airlines cut fuel costs and travel times, amid soaring oil prices.

The ban had been imposed by Taipei for over half a century due to security concerns.

"The decision ... was made in the interests of helping carriers cut costs amid the current upward spiral in international crude oil prices," Hsieh said.

The premier said in Cabinet's weekly meeting that individual airline companies could apply to China directly to fly over its air space.

"Hopefully, China will approve of our air carriers' applications ... as soon as possible," Hsieh said.

The United Evening News quoted unnamed officials from Beijing's aviation authorities as saying China welcomed Taiwan carriers using its international air space.

"Problems with this were completely with the Taiwan side," one official said.

China Airlines spokesman Bruce Chen, whose company will be affected by the move, said CAL was still evaluating the offer. EVA Airways Corporation, another airline to be affected, said it was waiting official notification before commenting.

Hsieh said if China permitted the move, it would be a boon for both passengers and airline operators as flying times from Taiwan to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe would be greatly reduced.

Share prices of China Airlines, EVA Airways Corporation, and Far East Air Transport Corp. jumped upwards following the announcement, causing the entire TAIEX to gain 112.3 points.

Shares of China Airlines, Taiwan's biggest carrier, rose 70 cents, or 4 percent, to NT$18.10. EVA Airways, the second- largest, gained 70 cents, or 4.7 percent, to NT$15.75.

Meanwhile, in another major policy announcement, Hsieh said the government wanted to negotiate with Beijing to set up direct non-stop passenger, cargo and special-purpose charter flights between Taiwan and Beijing. This amounts to a concession to one of China's key demands regarding direct air links.

After the two sides set up the first direct flights between Taiwan and China in over half a century for the Lunar New Year period, Taipei and Beijing have since spent the last six months squabbling over whether cargo flights or passenger flights should take priority.

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(See related story on page 20)

No progress on direct air links talks was made as China was pushing for passenger flights and the government wanted cargo flights. Hsieh's offer to negotiate the two simultaneously amounts to a compromise.

Hsieh said he had directed the China policy making Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to speed up contacts and talks with China.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party administration has commissioned the private Taipei Airlines Association to negotiate charter flights as Beijing has refused to make direct contact with the government for political reasons.

A spokesman for China's policy making Taiwan Affairs Office welcomed Hsieh's call for flight talks.

"We welcome the Taiwan side agreeing to simultaneously carry out talks on cross strait passenger and cargo flights," he said.

However, he did not offer any further concrete details about future talks, such as a time.

MAC officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said while Taipei had agreed to negotiate direct cargo and passenger flights simultaneously, the government wanted cargo flights to start first after talks were concluded.

The officials also said the two new major policies were adopted by Hsieh after extensive discussions with the National Security Council in the last few days.

"The two measures are also expected to convey a goodwill message to China and help improve cross-strait relations," one official said.

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