[Editorial] Air route to Taipei

Korea and Taiwan took a major stride toward mending their bilateral relations by signing an aviation agreement on Wednesday to reopen regular airline services, suspended since Seoul established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1992 in the sweeping mood of detente. National flag carriers of the two old neighbors will begin flying regularly carrying passengers between Incheon and Taipei in October For both sides, it was regrettable that the agreement was signed by their respective mission heads, instead of the top foreign ministry officials as required by the protocol between nations. Signing of the accord had reportedly been delayed for years due to the difference in the positions of Seoul and Taipei regarding this formality, among other reasons.

The diplomatic protocol aside, the two former Cold War allies have maintained friendship and cooperative ties in private sectors over the years. Bilateral trade amounted to $13 billion as of last year, with Korea enjoying a huge profit. The number of travelers both ways has increased phenomenally in the last few years, and the annual total is expected to overtake the pre-1992 record of 420,000 in no time. Two airlines each from both nations have operated seven "charter" flights a week between Incheon and Taipei since the 2002 World Cup soccer finals.

Korean airline companies will benefit greatly from the reopening of each other`s territorial airspaces as their planes will be allowed to fly over Taiwan instead of detouring on their way to Southeast Asian destinations.

Whether the Korean government was prompted or not by the ongoing history dispute with China, signing the aviation pact with Taiwan was an overdue step to satisfy real world demands. Our foreign policymakers must keep their heads high to face China`s high-handedness. Their next mission should be shedding the shameful reputation that South Korea is one of the few countries in the world which has been off-limits to the Dalai Lama due to China`s pressure.

(Korea Herald 2004-9-3)