Cablegate: Countdown to Cross-Strait Flights: View From Shanghai
R 030244Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6964
INFO AMEMBASSY BEIJING
AMCONSUL HONG KONG
AIT TAIPEI 1094
DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS SHANGHAI 000256
TRANSPORTATION FOR OFFICE OF AVIATION AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (X-50);
USDOC FOR DAS KASOFF, MELCHER, MAC/OCEA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR PREL ECON SOCI CH TW
SUBJECT: COUNTDOWN TO CROSS-STRAIT FLIGHTS: VIEW FROM SHANGHAI
(U) This cable is sensitive but unclassified and for official
use only. Not for distribution outside of USG channels or via
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Shanghai is watching closely as China and
Taiwan prepare to implement a recently negotiated agreement
launching weekend cross-Strait charter flights and opening
Taiwan to Mainland tourists. Local travel companies Shanghai
Airlines and Shanghai CYTS Tours seem positive on the
opportunity to offer improved travel options and hopeful that
initial successes may translate into significant future profits.
Despite numerous restrictions on Mainland travelers and likely
competition for seats from the Taiwan business community, the
chance to visit Taiwan appears to be generating some interest
among average Chinese citizens. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) On June 12, Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF)
and China's Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait
(ARATS) reached consensus on launching weekend charter flights
on July 4 and opening Taiwan to Mainland tourists on July 18.
The Chinese cities participating in the flight arrangement will
include Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Nanjing, and Guangzhou. In
Shanghai, Shanghai Airlines and China Eastern Airlines will
operate the Taiwan-bound flights. On June 26, Econoffs and Econ
FSN met with Yu Heng, Director for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao
Affairs at Shanghai Airlines, who provided an upbeat assessment
of his company's logistical preparations for the cross-Strait
flights and expectations for the program's future. (China
Eastern, a partially state-owned firm, declined to speak with
ConGenOffs.) Separately, Econ FSN spoke with Jinjiang Travel
and Shanghai CYTS Tours, the two major travel agencies in
Shanghai handling Taiwan tours.
CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF
3. (SBU) Yu confirmed that Shanghai Airlines' charter flights
between Shanghai and Taipei will commence July 4, and eventually
total 18 round-trip flights, Friday through Monday, per weekend.
All will depart from Pudong International Airport, selected
over Hongqiao Airport for its capacity to accommodate the
additional traffic. Initially, the majority of the flights will
land at Taipei's Songshan Airport, although nearby Taoyuan
International Airport may play a larger role in the future.
4. (SBU) Yu noted that logistics cooperation between the two
sides has been relatively smooth. Both pilots and crew have
been able to obtain necessary visas through a special channel.
Meanwhile, Shanghai Airlines and Taiwan's EVA Air have agreed to
provide landing and technical assistance to the other's arriving
flights at Pudong and Songshan/Taoyuan Airports, respectively.
While EVA Air lacks representation at Pudong, Shanghai Airlines
has a representative at Songshan to facilitate the arrangement
and is negotiating with EVA Air to have another assigned to
5. (SBU) Though the Taipei-bound flights no longer need to land
in Hong Kong, they must still traverse Hong Kong air space,
bringing total travel time to approximately 2 hours and 45
minutes. Yu optimistically expects negotiations between Chinese
and Taiwan authorities will result in a direct air route within
a few months, reducing flying time to a mere 70 minutes.
SALES ARE BRISK
6. (SBU) Yu reported strong sales, with 90 percent of seats on
Shanghai Airlines' flights already taken. The company is
charging RMB 3700 (USD 540) for individual roundtrip tickets and
RMB 2600 (USD 380) and up for group tickets offered through tour
packages. As things stand, individual travel is more difficult
to arrange, requiring approval from both Taiwan and Mainland
authorities as well as a Taiwan-issued tourist visa. Still, the
majority of sales have been to individual customers from the
Taiwan business community in Mainland China. This is largely
because, with the exception of an inaugural tour that leaves
July 4, Mainland tours to Taiwan will not begin until July 18.
Additionally, China Eastern is positioning itself to take a
greater share of the tour group market. Shanghai Airlines
expects increased demand from Mainland residents after more
tours begin, and hopes scheduled flights might constitute the
next stage of cross-Strait travel agreements, perhaps after the
Olympics. Yu did not have a clear sense of foreign passenger
interest in the charter flights. It is his understanding, Yu
stated, that foreign passengers are eligible to fly on the
cross-Strait charter flights, but the company has not received
clear guidance on this from the government.
HEALTHY TOURIST DEMAND
7. (SBU) In separate conversations, Econ FSN spoke with local
travel agencies to discuss application procedures and gauge
interest in Taiwan travel. Jinjiang Travel is currently taking
reservations for trips beginning July 18, but has not finalized
the details for the tour packages it will offer. Shanghai CYTS
Tours, on the other hand, will send the first all-Taiwan tour to
Taipei on July 4, and is offering 8 day (RMB 8800, or USD 1282)
and 10 day (RMB 12880, or USD 1876) packages. Shanghai CYTS
reported that bookings for its Taiwan tours have been better
than expected. The majority of participants are senior
citizens, which the agency attributes to a curiosity or affinity
toward Taiwan resulting from years of Mainland Cold War
8. (SBU) A number of regulations govern Chinese eligibility and
behavior during travel to Taiwan. Chinese from 13 provinces may
take advantage of the program, but must hold a hukou permit as
proof of residency in those 13 provinces. Applicants are
required to submit copies of their permit and personal ID card,
a certificate of employment, detailed background information,
and three photos. Agencies are barring Chinese with "political
issues" and government employees from participating, the latter
restriction to encourage ordinary citizens to travel to Taiwan.
Tourists will be required to put down a deposit -- likely to be
a whopping RMB 50,000 (USD 7283) -- refundable on their return
to China, though this requirement has been waived for July 4
tour participants. Tourists must remain with their tour group
for the duration of the trip.
9. (SBU) Despite the travel restrictions and likely competition
for seats from the Taiwan business community, the chance to
visit Taiwan appears to be generating some Mainland interest.
Shanghai Airlines and Shanghai CYTS Tours, on the whole, seem
positive on the opportunity to offer improved travel options and
expanded Taiwan tourism, and hopeful that initial successes
might translate into bigger profits in the future.