The first-ever commercial flight from Taiwan, a domestic flight, started this week from Taipei to Lujan Lu, on the island’s northwest coast, having already left China just 24 hours before. The plane, with 76 passengers, gave locals in the neighboring province of New Taiwan some bragging rights when the crossing was announced in May, in honor of the 550th anniversary of Taiwan.
While the flight took only an hour, it also serves as a symbolic stepping stone into the skies for the nascent airline, now known as Xiamen Airlines. Xiamen is known as China’s southernmost province, and it contains more than 20,000 Chinese-language signs, along with just as many Chinese characters in Taiwanese, according to The China Post. As so many important statements — like war declarations — have been released from places like the Forbidden City or China’s temples, it’s only fitting that Taiwanese-Chinese tourism is being launched by an airline grounded on the territory. It’s perhaps indicative of the dynamic between the two peoples, both bearing a significant international presence, which has helped shape attitudes toward cross-strait relations in recent years.
The flying plan in what is China’s first flight from Taiwan http://t.co/wGwapMePTj pic.twitter.com/ZsOqeyykQ9 — The Associated Press (@AP) November 28, 2015
Xiamen is also a rare glimpse of commercial aviation in mainland China, where the Communist Party has pushed to push tourism. As a result, the flight will be operated in bilateral airspace and has been given the strange name of CCA Mail, which means “People Express to China” and is officially part of a $10 billion international development in tourist facilities in southeastern China. (One interesting aspect of the route’s logistics: The flight is traveling from CAA to Kui to CCA, back to Kui. Over the course of its journey, the plane will eventually have five stops.)
While Taiwan has long been known as a favored travel spot for visitors from the mainland, the Chinese government has pushed hard on ties with Taiwan over the past couple of years, culminating in a meeting of leaders last May. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called the meeting “historical” and “a strong signal for closer ties” in a phone call with President Xi Jinping. If the airlines’ name truly means anything, it’s that these ties are far from strong. Just last month, the Americans issued their own warning for travel to Taiwan, specifically regarding the risks of arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities in the case of official diplomatic visits to Taiwan. Most flights between the two sides take place on previously agreed to fly time, or even coincide, making mistreatment or even arrest fairly routine.
Although the promise of increased travel between the two countries is widespread in Taiwan and among Taiwanese-Chinese communities on both sides of the border, the impact of Beijing’s diplomatic win here remains largely unfulfilled. While China proudly announced the flight this week, Taiwan’s tourism department remains at war with China’s propaganda infrastructure. Last year, the department cut ties with China’s tourism bureau altogether because of its promotion of illegal temporary residency certificates. As it stands, the travel agency in Hong Kong that operates China Travel Service (CTS) provides free Wi-Fi throughout the city and gives visitors info about upcoming events.
For those just considering the waters for a trip to Taiwan, the country’s transportation of example is already baked into their business. For the foreseeable future, flying via Xiamen Airlines won’t offer much of a different story for mainland China tourists looking to become the first to take a cross-strait flight — and before flying out of Taiwan, an endeavor that is to be officially completed at the end of January, your best bet is still the old silver touch train to Kaohsiung, which runs an hour each way and is recommended for the elderly.