Taiwan Criticizes China for Continued Hijackings

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A RECENT spate of airline hijackings from China to Taiwan has sharpened differences between the mainland and its island rival and raised new worries about the safety of mainland air travel.

This month, three Chinese airliners were forced to fly to Taiwan, bringing to seven the number of hijackings since April. The latest incident Nov. 12 came during a flight from Changchun, the capital of northeastern Jilin Province, to Shenzhen in southern China. The two hijackers of the airplane, carrying 73 passengers and nine crew members, claimed to be democracy activists fleeing persecution.

Hijackings in China have spread amid deregulation and rapid growth in the mainland air industry and growing concerns about safety. China's 35 airlines struggle with overcrowded air lanes and airports and have been hit with a series of accidents this year. [In the latest crash that hit the news Nov. 15, 11 people died, 60 were injured, and 24 others were reported missing when an airliner crashed and burned on a landing approach to the airport in Urumqi, capital of the western province of Xinjiang.]

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The latest hijackings prompted Taiwanese officials to order a review of its policy toward hijackings, which have led to a diplomatic tussle between China and Taiwan. Recent talks between the two rivals on repatriating mainland hijackers broke down. Beijing demands the immediate repatriation of hijackers to end air piracy. Taiwan, which has branded Chinese airport security ``a joke,'' says the incidents will not end until Beijing pursues further reforms and raises living standards.

Concerns have grown in Taiwan that the numerous incidents reveal Chinese efforts to gather military intelligence or may trigger a new burst of illegal migration from mainland China. After the recent run of air piracy, China ordered an investigation of the problem.

While Taiwan no longer welcomes hijackers as political refugees, a government spokesman said that at present Taiwan would continue to follow its policy of detaining and trying hijackers in Taiwan and returning the aircraft and its passengers and crew to the mainland.

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