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Chinese president, Taiwanese official meet in Beijing

The first get-together between the heads of the two ruling parties in six decades is a sign of warming relations.

May 29, 2008|Mark Magnier and Tsai Ting-I | Special to The Times

BEIJING — Chinese President Hu Jintao met the head of Taiwan's ruling party Wednesday in the Great Hall of the People here, another sign of warming relations between their two governments.

The meeting was the first between the heads of China and Taiwan's ruling parties in six decades.

Hu maintained an air of formality in the nationally televised meeting as Nationalist Party Chairman Wu Poh- hsiung and other members of the Taiwanese delegation nodded their heads and shook hands before posing for a group photo and settling in for prepared comments.

In a bid to build confidence after decades of harsh words, provocative referendums and military exercises, the two sides discussed the recent Sichuan earthquake and how it had engendered shared feelings of kinship.

The Nationalists, or Kuomintang, lost a civil war with the Chinese Communists in 1949 and fled the mainland to Taiwan, leading to six decades of hostility that the island's newly elected president, Ma Ying-jeou, has vowed to end.

Taiwan is looking for immediate economic gains to deliver on Ma's campaign promise to create jobs and spur investment by boosting cross-strait relations.

Down the road, Taiwan hopes to expand its freedom to negotiate in the international sphere, including membership in global health organizations, regional trade organizations and free trade agreements. Beijing has frequently maneuvered against such accords.

China has its sights focused on ensuring that the island doesn't edge toward independence, analysts said. Beijing also would like Taiwan to eventually accept its authority under a "one China" policy, which would be a bitter pill for many Taiwanese.

The coming weeks may bring steps to allow more Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, ease restrictions on Taiwanese businesspeople in China and expand direct charter flights between the two, leading to regularly scheduled service. Hu said Wednesday that more flights were a priority.

"During the eight years of rule by [former President] Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan became a total mess and cross-strait relations were very tense," said Li Jiaquan, a retired researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Now the two sides should shelve their disputes, achieve economic breakthroughs first, then address more difficult political issues later."

In the delicate dance between the two sides, analysts said, it was significant that Hu represented himself Wednesday as head of the Communist Party rather than as China's president, allowing him to finesse the tricky issue of sovereignty.

The party-to-party format is fine for dialogue and early confidence-building, both sides said. But Taiwan probably will balk at subsequent negotiations under this umbrella, which some believe leaves it in a subservient position.

"Things will change when the honeymoon ends and interaction gets back to a more normal track," said Chang Wu-ueh, a professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. "The issue of Taiwan's international space would be the most sensitive issue."

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Times staff writer Magnier reported from Beijing and special correspondent Tsai from Taiwan.

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