The mainland and Taiwan launched daily direct passenger flights, shipping routes and postal services on December 15 for the first time in 60 years as once icy ties begin to thaw.
The initiative underscores the most dramatic improvement in cross-Straits relations since island leader Ma Ying-jeou took office in May.
Beijing's top official on cross-Straits affairs on Monday called the direct links "a historical stride." while Ma hailed them as "a symbol of reconciliation."
"Today is another memorable date in the history of cross-Straits relations ... which signifies that our 30-year effort has finally paid off," Wang Yi, minister of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a ceremony in Tianjin to mark the start of direct shipping.
Ma said the direct routes to the mainland can signify two things.
"One is that the two sides are reconciling and not going back to the animosity and conflicts of the past. The other is the economy - sea and air cargo links can greatly reduce time and expenses," he said while presiding over the sailing of the first vessel from Taiwan to the mainland since 1949 at Kaohsiung port, one of the world's busiest sea cargo hubs.
He expressed the hope that the two sides could work together for common peace and prosperity after the direct transport and postal services started.
Mainland to assist Taiwan investors against financial crisis
Despite political tensions, flourishing economic ties over the past two decades have bound the two sides together, with annual bilateral trade now totaling about $100 billion.
Taiwan's largest trading partner since 2003, the mainland now hosts more than 1 million Taiwan investors, students, employees and residents.
Mainland statistics show that by July, Taiwan had invested over $46.4 billion in 76,000 projects on the mainland.
Shipping links resumed after a six-decade hiatus when a vessel bound for Taiwan left yesterday morning from the northern port of Tianjin, and one headed for the mainland left Kaohsiung.
Four freight ships belonging to mainland and Taiwan shipping companies also departed Keelung Harbor in northern Taiwan yesterday morning, heading for mainland ports.
Direct daily flights started with a Shenzhen Airlines flight taking off from Shenzhen Airport for Taipei at 7:20 am, which was followed by a Taiwan-based TransAsia Airways jetliner leaving from Taipei for Shanghai.
The first day witnessed 16 flights between Taipei and six mainland cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Guangzhou - which were nearly 90 percent full.
Flights between the mainland and Taiwan earlier had to go through a third region, usually Hong Kong or Macao, due to Taipei's ban on regular direct links.
Cargo also had to detour through third regions, adding time and expense to shipments.
Beijing and Taipei agreed last month on the new links, which include up to 108 direct daily flights a week, 60 new cargo flights a month and a raft of new sea cargo routes, to cut costs for Taiwan-funded firms on the mainland and tie the island closer to the faster growing mainland economy.
"We've got so many airports competing for the flights that it's difficult to satisfy them," said an ecstatic Lee Lung-wen, director-general of Taiwan's "civil aeronautics administration", at Taipei airport minutes after the arrival of the maiden direct flight from Shenzhen.
With the new air routes, it now takes 82 minutes, compared with nearly two and half hours previously, to fly from Shanghai to Taipei as the distance has been shortened to 950 km from 1,900 km.
The Taiwan authorities expect ocean shippers to save NT$1.2 billion ($36 million) a year and air passengers to save at least NT$3 billion annually.
The daily charter flights, an increase from the Friday-through-Monday routine that began in July, will become scheduled daily flights next year, Ma pledged last month.
Taiwan businessman Fang Ting-yuh said he had been hoping for direct flights ever since he launched an electronics company in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, in 1992. Yangzhou is about 2.5 hours away from Shanghai by car.
"Now it's possible to commute between my home in Taiwan and the factory in Yangzhou on a daily basis," he said. "It's good to feel that my home is closer."
To kick off direct postal links, which will shorten delivery time, mainland and Taiwan officials gathered at the main postal sorting office at Beijing Capital International Airport yesterday, symbolically putting Taiwan-bound greeting cards into a transparent box.
Direct postal links between five Taiwan postal centers and eight mainland postal centers are expected to cut delivery time from the current seven to 10 days by sidestepping a third region.
Markets on both sides of the Straits reacted positively yesterday, with Taiwan share prices closing up 2.96 percent.
(China Daily December 16, 2008)