As the third annual cross-Straits charter flight programme successfully concluded yesterday, it served as a reminder that there is still a major demand for better links between Taiwan and the mainland.
Between January 20 and yesterday, 12 Taiwan and mainland airlines operated a total of 72 non-stop round-trip charter flights, transporting about 27,000 passengers.
This year's charter flight arrangement has made remarkable progress by expanding the number of destinations from five to six and allowing other Taiwan residents holding legal certificates to take the flights, instead of just limiting them to Taiwan businesspeople and their families.
But the one-off charter flight service during Spring Festival remains a far cry from the huge demand for cross-Straits transport links.
It is estimated that 1 million Taiwan people who work and live on the mainland travel frequently between the two sides. That explains why there have been growing calls for establishing cross-Straits charter flights on major festivals and weekends, or even making them regularly throughout the year.
Behind the calls is the common aspiration of people across the Straits who want to open up three direct links trade, transport and postal services between Taiwan and the mainland.
There is no other place like the Taiwan Straits in the world. Although the island faces the Chinese mainland across only 160 kilometres of water, goods and travellers have to go through a third place.
In fact, Taipei's decades-old ban on the three direct links has proven a heavy burden for the island. Taiwan's official statistics suggest the opening-up of direct air and sea links across the Straits alone could save up to 25.8 billion new Taiwan dollars (US$795 million) annually in transport cost for Taiwan enterprises.
If the booming cross-Straits economic relations are considered, the economic loss and inconvenience incurred by the direct links ban may be beyond measure.
By the end of 2005, Taiwan investors had funded 68,095 projects on the mainland, with contract investment of US$89.69 billion. Trade volume between the two sides reached US$91.23 billion, with the mainland being Taiwan's biggest export market and largest source of trade surplus.
If there were no political bias, any political leader would recognize the critical need for an early establishment of the three direct links across the Straits.
Regrettably, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration led by Chen Shui-bian has refused to lift the ban in order to serve the party's push for "Taiwan independence."
To alienate Taiwan from the mainland, Chen went as far to tighten control over cross-Straits economic exchanges by introducing the policy of "pro-active management, effective opening-up" on New Year's Day.
Chen's ignorance of cross-Straits direct links, under the disguise of loving Taiwan, will inevitably end up hurting the island.
Due to his closed-door policy toward the mainland, Taiwan's economy has already been further marginalized during the process of economic integration in East Asia.
The successful operation of this year's charter flight programme offers another opportunity for the DPP administration to seriously consider the public welfare.
Establishing the three direct links across the Straits is an inevitable trend and conforms to the immediate interests of 23 million people on the island.
It is time for Chen and his administration to heed the voice of the people before it is too late.