- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) Taiwan's biggest airline yesterday completed the island's first commercial flight to China in more than five decades, a journey many hoped would build trust and ease tensions between the rivals split by civil war.
The purple-and-white China Airlines jumbo jet flew to Shanghai, by way of Hong Kong, to pick up 243 Taiwanese passengers returning home for the weeklong Chinese New Year the most important holiday for many Chinese.
About four hours after leaving Shanghai, the Boeing 747-400 touched down in Taipei after a 30-minute stop in Hong Kong. A long line of reporters, officials and lawmakers greeted the passengers, most of whom were business travelers working in Shanghai.
After stepping off the plane, electronics salesman Gary Kao hugged his wife and said that the special holiday flight shaved a couple of hours off his trip which usually involves changing planes in Hong Kong and experiencing frequent delays.
"Today, I can even get home in time for dinner," he said.
Mr. Kao predicted the flight would lead to better ties between Taiwan and China. "This is a great opportunity to improve trust and have more stable relations," he said.
All six of Taiwan's major airlines have been allowed to fly the holiday charter flights several times a week through Feb. 9. But each flight must stop in Hong Kong or Macau on the way to and from China, according to Taiwanese regulations.
The flights are a rare sign of cooperation between the rivals, which spend most of their time sniping and bickering about the minutiae of sovereignty issues.
Taiwan was once part of China. But when the Communist Party took over the mainland in 1949, the island refused to accept Beijing's rule. The top leaders from the two sides haven't met since the split.
Taiwan, which fears an attack from China, has outlawed planes and ships from directly crossing the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.


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