Normally, flights between mainland China and Taiwan must first land in a third location such as Hong Kong or Macau, a detour that can add several hours to the trip. But last week's deal means more than just convenient travel. China and Taiwan are bitter rivals; the mainland considers the island a breakaway province and hasn't ruled out reuniting with it by force. An accord on cross-strait travel shows a rare willingness to compromise. "It's hard to tell whether both sides will continue the dialogue," says Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, "but this is a very positive approach which shows both Beijing and Taipei are eager to establish some kind of interaction to create mutual trust."
Taipei has sought a means to resume talks with the mainland since discussions broke down six years ago. The island's businesses have invested an estimated $100 billion in China, and one million Taiwanese now live on the mainland. Many of them have urged their government to improve relations with China. In 2003, Taipei and Beijing had a similar agreement for one-stop charter flights during the Lunar New Year. (In 2004, during Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's reelection bid, Beijing refused to permit the charters.) But unlike 2003, when the charters were limited to Taiwan airlines, this year mainland carriers will be allowed to land in Taiwan for the first time. "This is a historic moment," says Eric Teng, a Shanghai-based businessman from Taiwan. "It can really help achieve peace in the Taiwan Strait." And, he adds, it will shave a few hours off his journey home.