Beijing says plenty of space separates Taiwan flights amid route row

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Beijing rebuffed Taipei’s objections in a deepening row over the opening of new flight paths in the Taiwan Strait, saying on Wednesday that the space separating routes over the waterway was more than is mandated by international standards.

This month, Beijing opened several new air routes, including a northbound one up the sensitive strait that divides the mainland from Taiwan. The self-ruled island said it was done without its agreement, contravening what the democratic government in Taipei has said was a 2015 deal to first discuss such flight paths.

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In response, Taiwan withheld approval of routine applications from China Eastern and Xiamen Airlines, majority owned by China Southern Airlines, to add Lunar New Year flights because the airlines had used the disputed air routes.

Taiwan has expressed concern that the new routes are too close to existing ones that link it to airports on two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands lying close to China – Quemoy, also known as Kinmen, which sits opposite to the mainland city of Xiamen, and the Matsu archipelago near to Fuzhou.

Multiple daily flights connect the islands to mainland Taiwan, while Xiamen and Fuzhou are also busy airports.

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Speaking at a regular news briefing, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said there was at least 23km (14 miles) separating the routes.

“This type of separation far exceeds lateral separation standards in the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation,” he said. “So it can be said that the connecting routes are safe.”

Quemoy and Matsu have both been under Taiwan’s control since defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Frequently shelled by Beijing during the height of the cold war, both are now popular tourist destinations and connected to the mainland by ferry.

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Kinmen’s airport is the busiest, with regular though less frequent flights to Matsu’s two airports from Taiwan.

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

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