China Eastern Cancels Holiday Flights Amid Dispute With Taiwan

Taiwan protests China's new air routes over Strait

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Tens of thousands of Taiwanese working in China are at risk of being unable to return home for the Lunar New Year in mid-February as a result of an escalating battle over airspace in the Taiwan Strait. Moreover, of 70 flights had been cancelled by Xiamen Airlines which blamed Taiwan for the hitch and labelling them as heartless.

The airlines said they would give refunds to almost 25,000 passengers who'd already booked flights.

However, tensions have been growing since China began operating a new flight route earlier this month in the Taiwan Strait without consulting Taiwan.

They included a northbound route known as M503, which travels up the Taiwan Strait that divides China from the self-ruling island.

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In response, self-governed Taiwan has 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.

Officials from Taiwan have voiced their concern that the new routes are too close to existing routes and could become a threat to flight safety, but the Chinese government denies there are any safety issues.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration in Taiwan said that it was never consulted over the flight routes.

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

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The refusal to agree to the extra flights is being seen as retaliation from Taipei, after China opened up several new air routes - which both China Eastern and Xiamen Airlines have been using. "All along, we said we hope that the situation can meet the needs of travellers and that we can all discuss an appropriate arrangement for the added flights", he said.

Chinese airlines started using the route for south-bound flights in 2015, halting its use a few months later, but on January 4 this year China started north-bound flights on it.

Taiwanese who want to be home for the holidays will probably have to find other options.

Kinmen 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.

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