2008-07-07 00:18:53 GMT 2008-07-07 08:18:53 (Beijing Time) China Daily
Passengers wave when boarding the charter airplane after a brief ceremony of the first weekend charter flight, CA 185, from Beijing to Taiwan, at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, capital of China, July 4, 2008. The airplane took off at about 8:30 a.m. after the ceremony.(Xinhua/Wang Yongji)
The brief ceremony of the first weekend charter flight, CA 185, from Beijing to Taiwan, is held at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, capital of China, July 4, 2008. The airplane took off at about 8:30 a.m. after the ceremony.(Xinhua/Wang Yongji)
BEIJING, July 7 -- Last Friday, 760 Chinese mainland tourists flew to Taiwan on cross-Straits chartered flights from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Setting foot on the soil of Taiwan, they started a journey of historical significance.
The cross-Straits relationship has entered a new era and this good start may take it to a bright future.
Thanks to pragmatic and flexible policies from both sides, the tourists from the mainland could finally enjoy the beautiful natural scenes and the colorful folk culture in the island.
It has been 21 years since Taiwan residents were given the green light to visit the mainland in 1987. Besides homecoming trips, trade, investment and commercial tours were allowed in later years.
Chartered flights, approved since 2001, flew the Taiwan residents in the mainland back to their homes on the island during traditional festivals, like the Spring Festival.
Now that the chartered flights could fly across the straits every weekend, it is natural to feel glad for the progresses consolidating the cross-Straits ties.
During the eight years under the rule of Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan witnessed economic stagnation and escalating conflicts between social groups. The Taiwan authorities also produced conflicts with the mainland for its promotion of "Taiwan independence".
Such action against the trend of the times would definitely be spurned by the public.
Since Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou won the island's leadership election in March, the cross-Straits ties have been significantly improved. The exchange between the mainland and the island was resumed on a pragmatic base and the mainland tourists won the approval to visit Taiwan.
From the perspective of Taiwan's economy, this opening of the tourism industry would bring in rewards for two major sectors: tourism and aviation. After the news was released, it received warm responses from tourist agencies and airline companies.
The mainland tourists have been well-known for their strong purchasing power during overseas trips. So it is not necessary to go to full lengths to predict how much the tourists would spend in Taiwan.
Just take a look at the figures of the airline companies: the island's airlines had 18.6 million passengers in 1997, which was a historical peak. This figure shrank to less than 10 million in 2007 because of the economic slowdown under Chen Shui-bian.
Therefore, it is easy to understand why the Taiwan airline companies hailed the opening-up to mainland tourists as a "savior" to the industry.
Viewed against a long-term background, the mainland and the island are sure to reunify. It is, therefore, shortsighted to view this tourist opening-up only in the context of economic rewards: it bears significance far beyond money.
A proverb is often mentioned in discussing the cross-Straits relationship: blood is thicker than water. But the family bonds represented by "blood" may not be enough by itself to achieve the reunification. The bonds must be realized and enhanced through exchanges between family members.
When the people from each side of the Taiwan Straits could go to the other side, even on given conditions, a new channel of exchanges is established through which they could see each other face to face and get acquainted. Based upon that, they could understand each other, develop common opinions and find the family ties in their blood.
This process might be slow and it might even see setbacks in certain places at certain times. Yet, such exchanges are indispensable for the reunification of the country because these would work in a mild and progressive manner.
As to the mainland residents, their knowledge about the real situation of the island might be relatively limited. After all, the Taiwan residents have begun to visit the mainland since the late 1980s, which enabled them to observe the mainland with their own eyes.
Most Chinese believe what they see rather than what they hear. The journey to Taiwan offers the tourists the opportunity to see the people, examine local culture and study the society there.
Already having personal experiences about the mainland's gains from the economic reform and opening-up, the mainland residents would also find what improvements we may need to further our development through seeing what is happening in Taiwan.
After that, the mainland residents might be more understanding and supportive of the central government's policy on the Taiwan question.
The author is the chief commentator with the Oriental Morning Post based in Shanghai
(Source: China Daily)