Cross-strait rapprochement leaped forward last week as Taiwan and China launched direct flights and cargo shipping services. These new links reflect the economic reality that binds the two sides of the strait: Annual trade between the island and the mainland is about $100 billion. Political issues have slowed these contacts, but these obstacles have diminished and cross-strait ties are rapidly expanding. This progress should be applauded as it calms a regional flash point and contributes to regional growth.
While the coming to power in Taiwan of President Ma Ying-jeou has made new relations possible, the Chinese government deserves credit too for seizing the moment. There has been concern in Beijing that Mr. Ma’s rule may be an interregnum and, thus, a reluctance to make concessions to him for fear that they would help the opposition further its independence agenda. Apparently Beijing has recognized that the best way to stave off the return of the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is to help Mr. Ma in his quest to improve Taiwan’s economy and the lives of ordinary Taiwanese.
Direct air and shipping services between the mainland and Taiwan will end a nearly six-decade ban on regular links. Under an agreement signed last month, the mainland will open 63 ports and Taiwan will open 11 harbors for direct cross-strait shipping. More than 100 flights will cross the strait each week, supplemented by 60 monthly cargo flights. Previously, travelers had to go via third points to hop across the strait, consuming an entire day; now, it’s just 82 minutes from Shanghai to Taipei.
It is estimated that the links will save shippers $36 million a year, and air travelers can save about $90 million a year. In addition, mail will take less time to deliver — from up to 10 days to just three. Reducing the distance between the two sides will facilitate better understanding and decrease tensions that have periodically dominated relations. This new proximity should encourage Chinese and Taiwanese to understand that their fates are intertwined, no matter how they choose to define themselves politically. That is good for them, and good for the region.
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