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Crash brings Taiwan, China together

China Airlines file picture
Victims' families are saying most passengers should not have had to fly to China via Hong Kong  

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- Unprecedented cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan in rescue and recovery efforts in the Taiwan Strait may speed up the pace of cross-Straits talks.

Political sources in Taipei said the China Airlines crash could be used by opposition and pro-unification politicians in Taiwan to press President Chen Shui-bian to expedite negotiations on direct air, shipping, business and other links with the mainland.

Taipei authorities have already expressed thanks to various mainland units that have sent rescue vessels, coast guard ships and fishing junks for the salvage operation.

So far, Chinese vessels have recovered the body of one of nine mainland passengers on board the Boeing 747-200, which went down the sea near the outlying island of Penghu while on a flight to Hong Kong last weekend.

Taiwan rescue authorities also got permission from mainland departments to go behind the mid-point line of the Taiwan Strait in search of bodies and debris.

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On Monday night, Chinese President Jiang Zemin pledged unremitting efforts to help in the rescuing passengers and comforting victims' relatives.

The Head of Beijing's semi-official Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), Li Yafei, said units from the Ministry of Communications, Red Cross, aviation authorities, Agriculture Ministry and Fujian Province would be extending help to Taiwan.

ARATS and its Taipei counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation, are negotiating whether the bodies of the nine mainland passengers could be directly flown back to the mainland without going through Hong Kong or Macau.

It was one of the few times since Chen came to office in May 2000 that the two bodies had been engaged in a cooperative venture.

The Beijing-run Hong Kong daily, Wen Wei Po, editorialized on Tuesday that the air accident might turn out to be a catalyst for the "Three Links", namely mail, transport and trade.

Unnecessary flight

It quoted the son of a crash victim as asking a senior Taiwan official: "My father wanted to go to the northeast. Why did he have to die in Penghu? Why not have direct (transport)links?"

In an editorial, Taipei's influential United Daily News said since the final destination of the bulk of the 206 travelers was the mainland, they would not have boarded this flight to Hong Kong if there had been direct air links.

The paper said the victims' relatives and the public were mad because they had flown on a flight necessitated by political expediency, and "died for no reason."

Meanwhile, Taiwan papers reported on Monday and Tuesday that growing numbers of legislators outside President's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party were forming groups to go to the mainland to discuss issues including direct links.




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