Direct Taiwan-UK flights symbolic of move towards deeper economic ties

New route between Taiyuan and London timed to coincide with end of trade talks between two countries and offers hope for closer future ties

(By Wikimedia Commons)

Last week saw the maiden flight of China Airlines' new direct route between Taipei and London arrive in the UK. It is the first direct route between Taiwan and the UK for more than five years.

The benefits of this new route will be felt by more than just those Taiwanese students studying in the UK and the British expats teaching English here in Taiwan. The flight arrived a day after the annual Taiwan-U.K. consultation on economics and trade finished in London. And this was no coincidence.

The launch of the new route appears to be one steeped far more in diplomacy than business interests. Previous routes between Taipei and London have disappeared because of a lack of use. Before last week, those flying between the UK and Taiwan had to undertake a simple and quick transit somewhere like Hong Kong or Dubai.

But the relaunch of direct flights by Taiwan’s flagship airline is a symbolic gesture. The likelihood is that the route will be loss-making, at least to begin with. While London is a global hub, this route is to Gatwick airport rather than the larger Heathrow. And the UK’s distance from Taiwan means the route is far more likely to be used as a final destination, than a transit point for people travelling elsewhere.

Instead, the launch of the route is intended to send out a message to the UK that Taiwan is ready to build closer economic and cultural ties.

The significance of Greg Hands direct involvement

It is a timely one. At the Taiwan-U.K. consultation on economics and trade, British International Trade Minister Greg Hands attended in person and met with the Taiwanese representative, MOEA Vice Minister Wang Mei-hua.

The significance of the direct involvement of a senior British minister in the event should not be underestimated. Greg Hands is one of the ministers directly involved in helping the UK to extract itself from the European Union and establish itself on the global stage once more.

He has a mountainous inbox and just a fleeting glance at his Twitter feed is enough to illustrate the huge number of varying demands he has on his time. So, the fact that he took an entire day out of his schedule to discuss future relations between the UK and Taiwan indicates that building closer ties between the two countries is viewed as important.

Indeed, back in September, Hands also visited Taiwan for two days where he made a number of trade announcements and met with senior business people, including China Airlines President Hsieh Su-Chien, who announced plans then for this direct route to be launched.

He described last weeks talks between the two countries as ‘very productive’ and highlighted the positive direction that trade relations are already going. Bilateral trade between the UK and Taiwan is currently NT$212 billion (£5.3 billion) and this has grown by 50% over the past five years. Indeed, he even found time to tweet out a Taiwan News report on the progress that was made.

To read more, click on Part Two of this article.