Image copyright CEDAR GROVE, IL Image caption There is nothing new about the Taiwanese city of Yuen Long in state politics
It is difficult to believe that, a mere ten years ago, people in Yuen Long were hoping for some impact from international flights.
Suddenly there are ten small airports dotted around this eastern city in Taiwan’s south-east, serviced by established airlines such as Air Taiwan and Comair.
Plans are underway to go all the way with the prospect of a new non-stop airline connecting Taiwan’s main cities.
But speaking to an excited high school student at a forum in the city recently, it was clear things are different.
Last year the student was excited to be flying over a cloud to Taiwan’s capital Taipei via two major airports in China.
Image copyright RICHARD AKAI Image caption Professor Liu-hsiang Han (L) and Mr Willmore (R) of East Tzu Chi University give attendees a tour of Taiwan’s largest airport, Taoyuan International
This year he is disappointed – but happy enough to have a boarding pass from Taiwan’s newest airline, Century Airlines, whose inaugural flight, from Yantai airport in southern China to Yuen Long, is due to depart on Sunday.
“It is so hard to fly there,” explained one young man from the student group.
“This new airline will let us travel to China, go to Taiwan on a flight, and then go to Yuen Long,” he explained.
Image copyright UNIONNIST Image caption Professor Liu-hsiang Han said many people on Credible saw a different Taiwan
His classmate quickly added: “In Taiwan it is impossible. This new airline will let Taiwan people see a different Taiwan.”
Airlines must comply with strict Taiwan regulations.
Despite the Taiwanese military’s deal with Beijing to hand over military control of its airspace in exchange for Chinese investment in certain hi-tech projects, civil aviation is a different story.
Beijing fears Taiwan will split, and it has restricted certain flights across the strait since the two sides split in 1949.
In January, China gave the go-ahead for one of Taiwan’s major airports, Taoyuan International, to connect directly to Taipa, one of the largest airports in southern China.
That came on the eve of former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou’s historic visit to China. But it remains unclear how long the deal will last.
Professor Richard Akai from East Tzu Chi University in Taipei said the deal was approved despite reluctance from the Taiwan government.
Photo caption ‘Taiwan not the true China’
The re-branding of Century Airlines and a real connection to Taiwan’s main cities seems key to the future of Taipei and the government has not given the nod to this.
“The people see a challenge from the mainland, but they don’t want Taiwan to split. There is a new air transport policy and Republic of China Airlines and other planes have gone, so there is a chance it is time to pass on [the branding] to a new airline.
“The people want a connection to Taiwan and they want to travel to Taiwan. It is from the people – they want a new airline.”
And professor Liu-hsiang Han, a scholar at Tzu Chi University, sees a new agenda.
“As we have seen with new airlines entering the market, the ultimate goal is not to fly people to Taiwan, but to fly in their investments and businesses.
“These airlines want to monopolise the air transport market in Taiwan,” he added.