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UPDATED: January 4, 2009 NO. 2 JAN. 8, 2009
Strait Talking
China's mainland and Taiwan forge closer links amid hard economic times

CLOSER LINKS: Ships docked at Keelung Port, Taiwan, take a "shower of blessing" in preparation for their first direct voyage across the Taiwan Straits (CHEN BINHUA)

On December 15, 2008, China's mainland and Taiwan launched direct flights and shipping routes across the Taiwan Straits, marking the beginning of "three direct links"--postal service, trade and transportation.

Despite only a narrow strip of water separating the mainland from Taiwan, politics had choked direct links for nearly 60 years. The resumption of two-way traffic will save both time and money for passengers and cargo, as well as reshape the pattern of economic cooperation and industry on both sides of the Straits, according to experts.

Costs lowered

On the morning of December 15, New Yantai, a cargo vessel belonging to China Shipping Group, departed from Tianjin for Keelung Port in Taiwan, embarking on its maiden direct voyage across the Taiwan Straits. On the same day, passenger planes left airports in Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou on the first direct cross-Straits air flights.

Previously, ocean cargo ships from China's mainland had to detour via a third port such as Hong Kong or Japan's Ishigaki Island. The trip was complicated, costly and time consuming.

Sun Shengyuan, Captain of New Yantai, told the press that it now takes the ship 48 hours to travel from Tianjin directly to Keelung, while previously the ship had to spend one extra day detouring via a third port. For a one-way journey, the direct route saves the ship 140 tons of fuel, cutting the shipment cost by 700,000 yuan ($102,489). In addition, cargo rental expense and document transfer charges have also been slashed.

Before the launch of direct passenger flight services, every week, 36 weekend charter flights commuted across the Straits via air routes over Hong Kong's airspace. Now, 108 daily charter passenger flights fly directly across the Straits. Direct chartered air cargo shipment has also been launched.

Ding Kunhua, head of the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the mainland, said, "Direct flights will speed up passenger and cargo shipments and cut costs, benefiting people on both sides of the Straits." He took the trip from Taipei to Tianjin as an example. Previously, the journey took a whole day, as much time as the trip from Tianjin to the United States. Now, the direct trip from Tianjin to Taipei takes only three hours.

Lower shipment costs have freed up capital, speeding up the turnover of some firms by as much as 20 percent, according to Ding.

New pattern

In addition to driving down transportation costs, direct air and marine traffic will also facilitate the flow of capital, optimize resource allocation and reshape the pattern of industrial cooperation.

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