BEIJING - The chairman of Taiwan´s ruling party arrived in China yesterday for six days of meetings viewed as a potential breakthrough between two enemies that helped define the Cold War and continue to drive U.S. military planning in East Asia and the western Pacific.
Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan's Nationalist Party, made history just by landing in the ancient capital city of Nanjing for the first peaceful visit by the leader of any ruling Taiwanese party.
"We hope this will be the beginning of a new era, when we can reconcile, be together harmoniously and jointly strive for peace," Mr. Wu said at a welcoming ceremony on the airport tarmac.
He arrived less than a week after Nationalist Ma Ying-jeou took office as Taiwan's president.
The Nationalists fought a bloody civil war with the communists on the mainland before retreating in defeat to Taiwan in 1949.
China claims sovereignty over the island and has threatened to attack if Taiwan moves toward declaring independence from the mainland.
The United States is obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself, and much of the U.S. military presence in the region is based on planning for such a contingency.
"There will be many difficulties ahead of us, but we are confident we can achieve peace as long as we remain sincere in dealing with them," Mr. Wu said at the welcoming ceremony.
His comments were featured prominently on Chinese national television and were followed by one minute of silence to remember the victims of the powerful earthquake that hit central China on May 12.
"Inviting us to visit in the midst of such a large earthquake disaster shows that cross-strait ties are extremely important," Mr. Wu said.
Chen Yunlin, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Council, bowed to the Taiwanese delegation as he expressed gratitude for the Taiwanese government's donation of $26 million to help with earthquake relief efforts and nearly $40 million from private donations.
"People across the [Taiwan] Strait are feeling the spring breeze ... following eight years of dark clouds," Mr. Chen said, referring to the eight tumultuous years when Taiwan, under the leadership of Chen Shui-bian, postured for independence while China threatened retaliation.
Mr. Ma's promise to improve relations with Beijing was the driving force behind his landslide victory in Taiwan's presidential elections in March.
Tomorrow, Mr. Wu is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in the highest level meeting between the Chinese and Taiwanese ruling parties in 60 years.
The stated purpose of Mr. Wu's visit is to clear the way for the start of weekend passenger charter and cargo flights between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.
Taiwan also wants to increase the number of Chinese tourists allowed to visit the island.
Mr. Wu had to fly into mainland China via Hong Kong because of the long-standing absence of direct air links across the Taiwan Strait.
Any talk of eventual unification will be off the agenda. The new Taiwanese government has promised to seek economic engagement with China and to end nearly six decades of hostility.
Polls show that most Taiwanese reject unification, fearing it would deprive them of their democratic freedoms and compromise their economic prosperity, but most also reject any moves toward formal independence.