HONG KONG -- The political atmosphere in the Taiwan Strait has improved considerably in recent days following the inauguration of nonstop charter flights between the two sides during the Chinese New Year holidays.

Added to this is the appointment of the pragmatic Frank Hsieh as the new prime minister of Taiwan and a major speech by Jia Qinglin, fourth ranking leader within the Chinese Communist Party, which gives the views of the new generation of Chinese leaders.

Last week also saw the visit to Taiwan by two leading mainland officials to attend the funeral of Koo Chen-fu, head of the Straits Exchange Foundation, the ostensibly nongovernmental body set up by Taiwan to deal with its mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. ARATS vice chairman Sun Yafu and secretary general Li Yafei were sent to Taiwan to represent the 90-year-old ARATS chairman, Wang Daohan, at the funeral service.