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While the rest of the world (from Europe to Africa
While the rest of the world (from Europe to Africa and both Americas) is fighting against persisting separatism, Chinese have demonstrated their Oriental wisdom again. They showed that not every country is sick with centrifugal disease, and that centripetal forces, albeit weak, are still at work.

On Friday, July 4th Beijing and Taipei began regular flights, which had been discontinued since 1949 when Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek took all nationalists to Formosa. For the time being, the two systems (Beijing's adheres to "one country-two systems" principle in settling the Taiwan issue) will be able to visit each other only from Friday till Monday. But this is a historic achievement for the part of the world where a gesture and symbol cost more than gold.

Mainland China had contacts with its "prodigal son" before. In 2003, Beijing and Taipei reached agreement on charter flights for the New Year; in 2006, they were extended to the Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Every year, mainland China is visited by four million Taiwanese. Last year, 80,000 Chinese went to the island. For the most part, Taiwanese citizens go to the mainland to visit their relatives. There are a little more than a million Taiwanese in China. But even such flights required special agreements.

Now each weekend six Chinese airlines and five Taiwanese airlines will operate 36 flights between five cities in the mainland and four on the island. The Taiwanese government has promised to create the best possible conditions for the tourists in the hope that soon their number will exceed one million. Before the arrival of the first "mainland" brothers and sisters, the Taipei municipal authorities, police and the media even conducted explanatory work among the local people, advising them not to offend, irritate, or insult the visitors.

Credit for the new air bridge goes to new Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou from the same Kuomintang Party, who won this year's March 29 elections against his major Democratic rival with a substantial advantage - 58% versus 42%. He won on pledges to revitalize the island's economy with closer trade and transit ties with mainland China but while preserving the political status quo. This idea is similar to Beijing's one country-two systems principle.

But it would be a great mistake to think that the new president is pro-Beijing or that he wants to join mainland China as soon as possible. The secret of Ma Ying-jeou's victory lies in his idea of a steady advance towards Chinese unity, and in his Democratic predecessor Chen Shui-bian's approach to this issue. Nobody doubts that in not-so-remote future Taiwan will be back to China but Chen Shui-bian decided to stage a bold experiment. He put to doubt the necessity of "family reunification" and held a national referendum on the issue of independence and lost. It appeared that Ma Ying-jeou understood his compatriots much better and dealt with such an anachronism as Taiwan's status with extreme caution. So, he shelved this legal issue and gave priority to economic reunification.

In this context, resumption of regular flights is a big step forward. It spells big money for China and particularly for Taiwan. Taipei knows full well that it is possible to live without the Big Dragon, but it is unrealistic to hope for full economic prosperity without it. Considering that even American and Japanese economies depend on China, Taiwan has almost no room for maneuver. It has to lean towards the mainland, at least economically for the time being. As the London Times put it, the Taiwanese have got a taste for investment into China and are ready to build it up. There is no precise information about the scale of Taiwan's investment in China, but experts put the figure between $100 billion and $150 billion, not counting the money invested by Taiwanese companies into China by proxy.

Beijing and Taipei have a long road ahead to mutual trust. It is enough to mention that the new flights follow the old charter routes - via Hong Kong and Macao. Even a direct flight from Taiwan to Beijing will first go south before going north. Experts explain this by security considerations but there is more to it than that.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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