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Official says opening layovers for Chinese travelers is crucial

TAIPEI -- Negotiating with China to allow transit stops in Taiwan for Chinese citizens headed elsewhere will be the “most important” transport issue between the two sides, Deputy Transportation Minister Chen Chwen-jing said yesterday.

Speaking at a forum on economics and finance legislation in the year ahead, Chen said that allowing layovers is the next logical step, after the establishment of direct transportation links in late 2008 led to dramatic growth in sea, air, passenger and cargo transportation between the two sides.

“The thing to do next should be expanding the benefits of cross-strait links and soliciting mainland Chinese to travel to other countries via Taiwan,” he said while presiding over the seminar, sponsored by the non-profit Academy of Promoting Economic Legislation.

While he called it “the most important of all the important (issues) in cross-strait air transportation talks,” he also noted that it will take hard work to accomplish due to issues of political mutual trust and domestic trust, which are “certainly not easy.”

Also speaking at the event, National Chiao Tung University professor Feng Cheng-min, said that if a breakthrough can be achieved in passenger and cargo transit, Taiwan will be able to develop a niche market in transportation logistics.

Roger Han, senior vice president of China Airlines, Taiwan's largest air carrier, said that Taiwan and China have made great strides in cross-strait transportation links and have found solutions to more than 80 percent of the problems they once faced.

Han expressed hope that transport ties can continue to generate economic benefits -- particularly through transit stops. He noted that only Chinese citizens are barred from making transit stops at Taiwan's airports, which he said was both “strange and unreasonable.”

Taiwanese travelers can now transit to Europe via China, but Chinese passengers still cannot go to a third destination via Taiwan.

“In fact, the most convenient route for people in Xiamen to travel to the United States is via Taiwan, not Beijing,” Han said.

The obstacle is that China requires its citizens to have an entry permit for Taiwan, even for just a transfer -- though they are allowed to transfer in Taiwan when heading back to China from abroad, he said.

Responding to the suggestions, lawmaker Tsai Chi-chang of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said that he is not against cross-strait talks, but the government should ensure that Taiwan is in the most favorable position in negotiations.

Legislator Chen Ken-te of the ruling Kuomintang, meanwhile, said that cross-strait talks should not be held hostage to politics, and the government should make full preparations irrespective of political factors to solicit the best conditions for businesses.

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