TAIPEI, Taiwan — China and Taiwan made economic history Tuesday with a bold agreement that allows planes and ships to travel across the Taiwan Strait — the place where many have feared they would fight their next battle.
Still the Asian rivals appear far from resolving the root causes of nearly six decades of hostilities and distrust. The pact was possible because negotiators set aside thorny political disputes and only focused on trade and economics.
The new deal allows passenger flights directly across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China. In the past, planes had to fly into Hong Kong airspace while traveling between the two sides. Cargo ships, which used to have to stop at the Japanese island of Okinawa northeast of Taiwan, will be allowed to sail directly to the other side and cut hundreds of miles off each trip.
The deal is significant for businesses and drew applause from Japan, the United States and Europe. The groups said in a joint statement the restrictions on flights and shipping have kept Taiwan from participating in the global and Asian economies.
"Taiwan can only benefit from having greater interaction with one of the world's fastest growing markets," it said.
In the eyes of China's leaders, Taiwan is a Chinese province that must eventually unite with the mainland or be invaded by the mainland's military.
A conflict could quickly draw in the United States, which has long warned China's government it may defend Taiwan — a major buyer of American weapons. Even as they talk to China, the Taiwanese have been loading up on more U.S. arms, including Apache helicopters and Patriot missiles.
China-Taiwan relations are so awkward and strained that Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, who signed the deal Tuesday, has yet to call Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou by his proper title: president. Chen — the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Taiwan — is sticking to Beijing's policy of not formally recognizing the island's government.