2008-06-13 09:08:41 GMT 2008-06-13 17:08:41 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
by Xinhua Writers Dong Lixi and Fu Shuangqi
BEIJING, June 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese mainland tourists can visit Taiwan by chartered flights on weekends from next month following the landmark agreements signed here Friday morning.
The mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) chairman Chen Yunlin and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Chiang Pin-kun signed the two agreements around 9 a.m. Friday after the organizations resumed talks after nine years.
"It is significant progress for cross-Straits talks," said Sun Yafu, ARATS vice chairman.
They were the first agreements signed between the organizations15 years after ARATS chairman Wang Daohan and SEF chairman Koo Chen-fu signed four documents during their meeting in Singapore.
The SEF and ARATS are authorized non-governmental organizations(NGO) engaged in talks on issues related to cross-Straits exchanges.
Talks were suspended in 1999 after then Taiwan leader Li Teng-hui proposed his "special state-to-state" model for cross-Straits relations.
Sun expressed his belief the two agreements would further promote exchanges and push ahead the talks to realize direct flights across the Taiwan Straits.
"I am very glad to see the two agreements signed and feel great responsibility upon my shoulders," said Chiang.
He had talked with his mainland counterpart about more topics that might be on the future agenda, including the expansion of weekend charters to regular scheduled flights, direct shipping and oil and gas exploration in the Taiwan Straits, he said.
But the SEF still needed to get authorization from the Taiwan authorities to kick off the negotiations, he added.
The two sides agreed on starting weekend chartered flights across the Taiwan Straits from July 4. So far, the service is only in operation during four major Chinese festivals.
Every weekend, 36 return flights will fly between five mainland cities and eight Taiwan destinations each Friday through Monday. The number will increase according to demand, says the minute of the talks on weekend chartered flights.
The flights would be divided evenly between the mainland and Taiwan airlines, it said. The mainland would gradually add six more destinations and possibly more if needed.
"The environment is favorable. Now there is a beginning and the next step ahead will follow. We can't expect to reach the final target by one step," said Michael Lo, former chairman of the Taipei Airlines Association (TAA), in an interview with Friday's Beijing News. "A good beginning is half done."
The two sides also agreed to continue negotiations over several key topics, including direct flight routes, air traffic control system coordination, regular scheduled flights and chartered cargo flights.
The other agreement was to facilitate mainland tourists coming to Taiwan that was signed Friday morning. This allowed tourists in groups to travel to Taiwan.
The two sides set a quota for the number of tourists in line with Taiwan's accommodation capacity. It may be adjusted next year.
"A maximum of 3,000 mainland tourists can travel to Taiwan every day," the agreement says.
In the meantime, only groups of 10 to 40 tourists are allowed to travel to Taiwan, it says.
It also prescribes a maximum stay of 10 days for each group.
The National Tourism Administration confirmed Friday the new travel agreement would first applied to residents in 13 mainland provinces and municipalities including Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu. Gradually, it would be expanded to more areas.
The ARATS and SEF also agreed on the establishment of representative offices in each other's areas to handle flights and tourism issues.
The two pledged to simplify entry and exit procedures and to protect tourists' legal rights and safety.