China's Hu wants improved relations with Taiwan

Signalling a thaw after years of troubled ties, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for peaceful relations as he welcomed Taiwan's Kuomintang chairman Wu Poh-hsiung in Beijing. China and Taiwan split in 1949 following the defeat of the nationalists.


Chinese President Hu Jintao called for peaceful relations with Taiwan as he met the head of the island's ruling party here Wednesday in the highest-level contact since the two sides split in 1949.

Putting aside decades of tensions that have made the Taiwan Strait one of the world's potential flashpoints, Hu shook hands with Kuomintang chairman Wu Poh-hsiung during a red-carpet welcome at the Great Hall of the People.

The pair then posed with their delegations for a photograph before heading into their historic meeting, with the events broadcast on China's state-run television.

"Based on the past exchanges and communications between the two parties, and under the new situation, I hope we can promote cross-strait relations, exchange opinions and look to the future, and push forward the peaceful development of cross-strait relations," Hu said in his opening remarks to the meeting.

Wu in turn said the Chinese and Taiwanese should make sure that their people never take up arms against each other again, in comments that also touched on this month's devastating earthquake in China's southwest.

"We cannot guarantee there won't be any natural disasters any more on both sides of the strait, but through our mutual efforts, we can ensure there is no war," he said.

Wednesday's meeting is part of a dramatic easing of tensions between China and Taiwan in recent months that is likely to see the two sides quickly resume a formal dialogue that has been suspended for over a decade.

The Kuomintang's defeat of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan's presidential polls in March has been the trigger for the rapprochement.

Ma Ying-jeou, who was sworn in as president last week, has taken a much more conciliatory approach with China than his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, whose pro-independence rhetoric angered the mainland's communist leadership.

China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949, with the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist forces retreating to the island after the communists took control of the mainland.

For decades, the KMT and China's Communist Party were bitter foes. But the KMT in recent years staked out a platform of reconciliation in contrast to Chen's DPP.

China remains determined to bring Taiwan back into its political fold, and repeatedly warned during Chen's eight years in power that it was prepared to use force to do so.

In some of the most significant developments of the recent thaw, Ma pledged to deepen economic links between the two sides, vowed not to enter an arms race and pushed for a restart of a formal bilateral dialogue.

Taiwan said last week the bilateral talks, which have not been held for more than a decade, would resume next month with the aim of building closer trade and tourism links.

Wu told Taiwanese reporters after his meeting with Hu that the Chinese president had agreed to restart the talks soon, but no date was set.

"We have good reason to believe that the two sides can reopen dialogue soon, because Mr Hu made it clear that it 'should be done within the shortest period of time'," Wu said.

China's state-run television confirmed that Hu had said the talks should resume quickly.

Key issues to be discussed in the dialogue would be starting weekend passenger charter and cargo flights as well as allowing more Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan.

China has also warmly welcomed Taiwan's help in providing medical aid and other relief following the earthquake that hit the southwestern province of Sichuan on May 12, and Hu again expressed gratitude.

"The loving heart and heart-rending behaviour of the Taiwan compatriots deeply moved us," he said in his opening remarks.

"On behalf of the mainland compatriots, especially compatriots in quake-hit areas, I would like to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to our compatriots in Taiwan."

On Tuesday, Wu visited the mausoleum of Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen in the eastern city of Nanjing. That visit was highly symbolic as Sun remains a revered political figure for people in both Taiwan and the mainland.

Wu travels to Shanghai on Thursday.

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