updated 6/24/2008 2:35:39 PM ET 2008-06-24T18:35:39

The first regularly scheduled flights in six decades linking China's mainland with Taiwan will begin July 4, state-owned Air China said Tuesday.

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The flights are part of a warming in relations between China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 amid civil war. The communist mainland claims the island as part of its territory and has threatened to attack.

The weekend flights will link Beijing with Taiwan's capital, Taipei, and southern port of Kaohsiung, Air China said.

"This new bridge between Taipei, Kaohsiung and Beijing will help enhance Chinas cultural and commercial ties," an Air China spokesman, Zhang Chunzhi, said in a statement. Taiwan barred direct travel for decades as a security measure but has allowed charter flights on Chinese holidays in recent years.

Pressure for direct flights came from Taiwanese businesspeople who have invested heavily in the mainland. They complained about the cost and inconvenience of having to travel to China via Hong Kong and other third points.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office on May 20, promised to improve ties with China. Relations were strained for eight years during the administration of Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian. Beijing accused Chen of plotting to make Taiwan's de facto independence permanent.

Beijing and Taipei have no formal relations.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's China Airlines and China Southern Airlines said they will cooperate on direct charter flights between Taiwan and China, also beginning July 4.

The two carriers will represent each other in passenger, cargo, maintenance and ground handling operations, China Airlines said in a statement.

China Southern, based in the southern city of Guangzhou, said it would support China Airlines' efforts to join SkyTeam, a group of major airlines.

China Airlines and a subsidiary, Mandarin Airlines, plan to operate 29 weekend charter flights next month linking Taiwan with the mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen, the carriers said.

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