Taipei, Aug. 8 (CNA) Shandong Airlines announced Thursday that it will cancel charter flights between Jinan and Hualien from Aug. 24, a fresh blow to Taipei following Beijing's ban on independent travelers visiting Taiwan a week ago.
The weekly charter flights that were scheduled to continue between the two destinations every Saturday until Oct. 26, will be halted due to "plan adjustments," the Chinese airline said.
Upon hearing the news, Hualien Tourism Department Director Tang Yu-shu (唐玉書) expressed deep regret about the unexpected development and urged the Chinese side to "not mix politics and economics."
After a three year hiatus, Shandong Airlines resumed charter flights to Hualien July 1, with 160 passenger capacity on each flight, 80 percent of whom have been Chinese travelers.
Since July 6, the load factor on the five round-trip flights averaged around 90 percent, the majority being members of Chinese tour groups, Hualien County Travel Agency Association Chairman Wu Yung-chang (吳永昌) told CNA.
At the same time, reservations booked by Taiwanese travelers to fly with Shandong Airlines last through late October, an indication of a good load ratio, he noted.
According to Wu, about 10 flights will be affected and they are talking with other airlines to deal with the situation. Passengers who have booked tickets will receive a full refund or have to fly from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
Beijing has seemingly stepped up its efforts to curtail cross-strait exchanges ahead of Taiwan's presidential election in January 2020, and some commentators have interpreted this as an effort to influence the election.
On Aug. 1, Beijing abruptly announced a ban on independent travel to Taiwan.
On Wednesday, the China Film Administration said it would temporarily block the participation of representatives from the Chinese film industry attending Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards.
Speaking at a regular news briefing Thursday, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said cross-strait exchanges are used as a political tool by China against Taiwan every time their is an election, underlining Beijing's "out-and-out meddling in Taiwan's elections."
He called on Beijing not to meddle in politics through tourism exchanges in response to the latest media speculation that China is considering ending the three mini links between the two sides from Sept. 1.
The three mini links refer to postal, commercial shipping and travel links by sea between Taiwan's offshore island of Kinmen and China's Xiamen and Quanzhou, and between the island of Matsu and China's Fuzhou, that started on Jan. 1, 2001.
"If China were to do so, it would seriously damage two-way relations," he warned.
In a bid to clarify speculation about the three mini links, Taiwan has already published the September schedules for ferry services between the two sides on the Maritime Port Bureau website without China requesting any adjustments, Chiu said.
The Fujian authorities have said there are no plans to end the three mini links, according to Chiu.