A bright spot in Beijing?

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images With airfares continuing to skyrocket and all the bad news about airlines going bankrupt, there’s actually one potential bright spot in the world of air travel: China and Taiwan are holding official talks about the possibility of charter flights across the Taiwan Strait. Led by Chiang Pin-kung (right), chairman of the ...

594660_080612_chiang2.jpg
594660_080612_chiang2.jpg

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

With airfares continuing to skyrocket and all the bad news about airlines going bankrupt, there's actually one potential bright spot in the world of air travel: China and Taiwan are holding official talks about the possibility of charter flights across the Taiwan Strait. Led by Chiang Pin-kung (right), chairman of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation, a 19-member delegation from Taiwan arrived in Beijing Wednesday for four days of discussions. Relations between the two sides have warmed considerably since Ma Ying-jeou, who favors closer ties with the mainland, was elected president of Taiwan in March.

This week's talks are the first time in nearly a decade that there have been formal negotiations between China and Taiwan. It's not Chiang's first visit to Beijing, though. Three years ago, I interviewed him in Taipei shortly after he returned from Beijing, where he was visiting as a member of Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) party (but not as an official from Taiwan's government -- a fine distinction that's all too important in delicate cross-Strait relations). His visit was frowned upon by then-President Chen Shui-bian, who was in favor of the island's independence. Chiang told me that his goal was to develop relations with the mainland in a way that would benefit Taiwan's economy, and not to get overly bogged down in politics. But now with a KMT president in office, he's free to engage in both politics and economics.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

With airfares continuing to skyrocket and all the bad news about airlines going bankrupt, there’s actually one potential bright spot in the world of air travel: China and Taiwan are holding official talks about the possibility of charter flights across the Taiwan Strait. Led by Chiang Pin-kung (right), chairman of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation, a 19-member delegation from Taiwan arrived in Beijing Wednesday for four days of discussions. Relations between the two sides have warmed considerably since Ma Ying-jeou, who favors closer ties with the mainland, was elected president of Taiwan in March.

This week’s talks are the first time in nearly a decade that there have been formal negotiations between China and Taiwan. It’s not Chiang’s first visit to Beijing, though. Three years ago, I interviewed him in Taipei shortly after he returned from Beijing, where he was visiting as a member of Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) party (but not as an official from Taiwan’s government — a fine distinction that’s all too important in delicate cross-Strait relations). His visit was frowned upon by then-President Chen Shui-bian, who was in favor of the island’s independence. Chiang told me that his goal was to develop relations with the mainland in a way that would benefit Taiwan’s economy, and not to get overly bogged down in politics. But now with a KMT president in office, he’s free to engage in both politics and economics.

This week’s talks will probably focus exclusively on economic ties, however. Polls show that Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo of de facto independence, but want the economic opportunities that closer ties with China will provide. And the Chinese are not about to do anything drastic politically — not with all international eyes on them after the earthquake and ahead of the Olympics in August. So, for this round, just expect lots of handshakes, photo ops, and quite possibly, a little more friendliness in the skies.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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