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China, Taiwan agree on flights

Air Transportation

(CNN) -- Non-stop charter flights will link China and Taiwan during Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, marking the first time in more than 50 years commercial planes have made the trip, according to Chinese media reports.

Negotiators reached the agreement Saturday to allow the two-way flights between January 29 and February 20.

According to China's state-run Xinhua news agency, six airlines from China and six from Taiwan will fly a total of 48 round-trip flights during that time.

Taipei banned direct air links across the Taiwan Strait in 1949, when the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan after losing a battle with the Chinese Communists.

According to Taiwanese civil aviation negotiator Lo Ta-hsin, the planes will not directly cross the strait, detouring over Hong Kong's airspace instead.

Chinese civil aviation negotiator Pu Zhaozhou said the flights -- to be used only for Taiwanese business people who work in China and their relatives -- will connect the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and the Taiwanese cities Taipei and Kaohsiung.

According to Xinhua, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese business people and their families return to Taiwan for the holiday, which falls on February 9.

Chinese officials hoped that the agreement would improve relations between Taiwan, which it considers Chinese territory, and dampen the push for independence by the island's president, Chen Shui-bian.

China has threatened to use military force to keep Taiwan from proclaiming statehood.

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