11 November 1996 00:00 [Source: ACN]
TAIWAN appears set to open up limited direct Taiwan-China sea links for foreign-registered ships after Premier Lien Chan approved a proposal from the country's Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunication (MoTC) last week.
Taiwanese shippers, however, say the proposal discriminates against local shippers, and are unhappy as they may be forced to register a portion of their fleets in other countries in order to avoid losing business to foreign shipping lines.
The MoTC proposes that foreign-registered ships be allowed to sail directly between Taiwan and China, provided the itinerary is part of a longer voyage between other destinations.
However, an MoTC shipping division official said that ships carrying Taiwan-bound Chinese cargo or China-bound Taiwanese cargo will still not be able to sail directly between Taiwan and China. Such ships will first have to pass through a third port.
The MoTC proposal comes in the wake of China's announcement this August of general guidelines for direct cross-strait shipping, and continues to emphasise the cautious stance Taiwan is adopting in this issue.
It highlights the urgency of shipping talks between China and Taiwan, ahead of Hong Kong's return to China next July.
Private talks between shipping representatives of Taiwan and China, originally scheduled for October, have been postponed yet again, however. No date has been set for the next meeting.
The talks were postponed to early November after the governments of China and Taiwan hesitated to approve them on grounds that political issues would be involved (ACN 7 Oct,p4).
The Straits Exchange Foundation, a quasi-official Taiwan organisation set up to represent the government in negotiations with China, said it still has not been asked to participate in these talks.
One Taiwanese industry source told ACN that discussions, while pressing, are especially sensitive now. 'The Taiwanese government wants everything, including shipping lanes, to be discussed only through government channels,' he said. 'It would rather not have private organisations involved.'
He added that previously, both sides had successfully conducted talks through representatives of two organisations, one in Taiwan and the other in China.
'I think the Taiwanese government would like to resume shipping talks only through this channel,' he said.
A Taiwanese shipping official said Taiwanese shippers are also waiting to see how the Chinese government will handle the applications of some of their counterparts to ship directly between selected ports in China and Taiwan.
A Yangming Marine Transport official said it has yet to receive any notice from the Chinese government.
Last week, however, MoTC announced its choice of four Chinese shipping firms to ply China-Taiwan shipping lanes when such links are set up. The Chinese firms include Fujian Shipbuilding and the Xiamen branch of China Ocean Shipping.
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