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Stage set for historic China-Taiwan meeting

Latest update : 2008-04-12

Taiwan's vice president-elect, Vincent Siew, (photo) is set to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao Saturday on the sidelines of a business conference in southern China in the highest-level encounter between China and Taiwan since the 1949 civil war.

 

Taiwan's vice president-elect was set to hold a historic meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday, an event hailed by the United States as "the best way forward" for the two arch rivals.

 

Vincent Siew's meeting with Hu, expected to last just 20 minutes, is the highest-level encounter between China and Taiwan since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.

 

"We think that dialogue between the People's Republic of China and the authorities, leaders on Taiwan is the best way forward," US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told reporters in Washington.

 

Siew was to meet Hu as head of a Taiwan delegation visiting the south Chinese island of Hainan for the Boao Forum for Asia, a gathering China hopes to transform into a regional version of the Davos meetings.

 

Siew, the running mate of Taiwan president-elect Ma Ying-jeou, has not yet assumed office after last month's elections.

 

However the meeting is seen as the first major test of the incoming Ma administration's ability to bring about better ties with China, a promise that was considered decisive in Ma's poll victory.

 

"I hope that through this meeting we can deepen the understanding between the two sides and also create a basis for common trust," Siew told reporters Friday. "It's also my hope that through this meeting we can help melt the ice."

 

Members of Siew's delegations said they expected him to meet Hu sometime in the afternoon, although no final time had been made public.

 

On Saturday morning Siew met with Philippine ex-president Fidel Ramos, and he was expected later to also hold talks with former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke.

 

Siew is in Boao as chairman of a non-profit organisation, a capacity in which he has previously attended the forum five times, and he has also met with Hu there before.

 

With anticipation high ahead of Saturday's meeting, members of the Taiwan delegation were eager to stress the Boao forum is mainly about economics.

 

"Don't expect anything too concrete. The time for the meeting is short. We shouldn't be too greedy, and we aren't greedy," said Su Chi, a leading member of Siew's delegation.

 

The significance of the meeting would be to signal Taiwan's willingness to "start making friends again," he argued.

 

"We are an island and need to make friends. With many friends and few enemies, Taiwan has won. With many enemies and few friends, Taiwan has lost," said Su.

 

Ma, the more China-friendly of two candidates in last month's Taiwan election, has vowed to improve relations with the mainland, increase trade, tourism and transport links, and work on a peace treaty to end hostilities.

 

Political relations between China and Taiwan deteriorated during the past eight years, during which the island has been ruled by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

 

But China has become Taiwan's number one export market and its biggest trading partner. Two-way trade last year reached a record 102 billion US dollars.

 

Analysts say any meeting with Hu would likely help smooth political tensions that have hamstrung relations despite the ever closer economic links tying the island to China.

Date created : 2008-04-12

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