Taiwan says China air route dispute will determine future ties

FILE PHOTO - A plane flies past a setting sun near the Songshan airport in Taipei July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A dispute with China over its opening of new air routes near Taiwan will determine future relations between Taipei and Beijing, Taiwan’s government said amid a deepening disagreement that could strand thousands over an important holiday.

The spat has become increasingly bitter, with both sides trading accusations after two Chinese airlines canceled extra flights to Taiwan over the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, potentially leaving thousands of Taiwanese without tickets to go home.

“The people’s eyes are sharp. Whether this disputed issue can be resolved is an important indicator of how Taiwan people will view the future direction of relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement late Wednesday.

“We again call on the Chinese side to treasure the hard won peace and stability of relations between the two sides. China needs to carry out measures to make up for this deficiency, in order to avoid this issue continuing to grow and ferment.”

Taiwan says the new routes, which run near two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands which sit close to China, are a threat to aviation safety and were opened by China without Taiwan’s approval, contravening previous agreements.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province, and relations have cooled dramatically since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office as Taiwan’s president in 2016.

Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry