China Pushes for Taiwan Flights

China (search) on Wednesday pushed for direct charter flights between Taiwan (search) and the mainland for the Lunar New Year, appealing to its rival to sincerely consider the issue.

"We hope to realize this goal," said He Shizhong, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office economics bureau. "We really hope to get a positive response from Taiwan."

Direct air links have been banned since China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, but vigorous trade between the two sides in recent years has made the issue more pressing as Taiwanese tourists and investors flock to the mainland.

Despite the lack of official contact or direct transport links, Taiwanese have invested about $100 billion in China since 1987 — a growing market that mainland authorities are eager to cater to.

Negotiations are usually stepped up ahead of the Lunar New Year (search) holiday or Spring Festival — the year's busiest travel season — when residents from both sides visit relatives across the Taiwan Straits.

"We hope to realize the direct charter flights in the coming Spring Festival in order to meet the need of Taiwanese businessmen and Taiwan compatriots," He said at a regular press conference. "If Taiwan shows sincerity on the issue, it will not be a problem to realize direct flights this year."

Taiwanese opposition politicians met with Chinese officials on Monday for discussions. The visit, which was not officially authorized by the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, was the first of its kind by politicians instead of airline officials.

The Taiwan government said Monday that it was pleased with the mainland's "positive response," but added that it should hold talks through official channels, not with opposition politicians.

Taiwanese officials say direct air links would affect national security since Chinese civilian planes may conduct secret reconnaissance or cover fighter jets to help them evade radar detection.

He, the state council official, said China wants discussions to take place only between aviation officials.

In 2003, several Taiwan flights picked up hundreds of Taiwanese from Shanghai — but Taiwan barred Chinese airlines, citing security concerns.

Last year, China would not follow that practice, insisting that Chinese airlines should also be involved. Taiwan refused.