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Taiwan finally wins ‘guest’ status at ICAO assembly

For the first time since starting to apply to participate in discussions at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2009, Taiwan has finally been granted “guest” status at the triennial ICAO Assembly to be held in Montreal, Canada from September 24 to October 4. The island will join the talks as a special guest of the Council President Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez.

Participating under the name “Chinese Taipei,” Taiwan’s delegation will be led by Shen Chi, director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). Vice Foreign Minister Vanessa Shih said that Taiwan lost its eligibility to attend meetings of United Nations bodies when it was expelled from the UN in 1971. After securing observer status of the World Health Organization in 2009, Taiwan has actively sought to participate in the ICAO – a UN-affiliated organization.

There are currently 191 member states in the ICAO. Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR), covering an area of 180,000 square kilometers and annually operating more than 1.3 million flights and serving more than 40 million passengers, is a major aviation hub in Asia. It is linked by air to 117 cities across the world through 181 passenger routes and 86 freight routes, with 400 scheduled flights to and from the US, and more than 1,200 with mainland China every week. Nevertheless, Taiwan has been excluded from the international civil aviation system.

Being excluded from the ICAO system, Taiwan is often unaware of any changes occurring in relation to international flight rules, thus is unable to cope with the situation, or unable to access complete information. This situation also makes some aspects of Taiwan’s operations incompatible with ICAO Flight Standards. All of these factors have an adverse effect on Taiwan’s civil aviation development.

The United Daily News reported, according to Yi Xin-chuang, CAA deputy director of the Airport Operation and Management Unit, in 2000 the CAA drew a flight route from Manila to Shanghai via Hengchun, on the southern tip of Taiwan. The flight crossed Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, which is the airspace designated for military exercises. ICAO made this decision without considering Taiwan’s air defense operations. And, as a non-member, Taiwan had to use Hong Kong to pass on the message requesting the ICAO to change the route for safety reasons.

Shen said Taiwan has been working hard to attain “observer” status to participate in the ICAO, but according to ICAO Articles, an observer must be a “non-party member” or an “international organization.” The ICAO members finally agreed to allow Taiwan to attend as a special guest of the Council president.

As the convention of the ICAO Assembly drew near, Taiwan’s CAA officials had held little hope of participating this year. Then, the ICAO Council president faxed a letter to invite Taiwan on September 11, less than two weeks from the start of ICAO Assembly, the paper reported

According to a press release from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the reasons for Taiwan invitation is due to Taiwan’s long-term commitment to international aviation standards and safety, improvement in relations with mainland China over the past few years, and the support given by members of the international community. Among the island’s supporters – US President Barack Obama signed a bill supporting Taiwan’s participation in the ICAO on July 12.

The special guest status, however, still falls short of Taiwan’s expectations. Vice Foreign Minister Shih said even though both the invited guest and the observer can not speak at the Assembly, Taiwan is still striving for “substantive, professional and meaningful” participation.