- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

GUANGZHOU, China — A Taiwanese opposition leader arrived in China on a goodwill mission yesterday amid heightened tensions over Beijing’s passage of a law authorizing force to compel Taiwan to unify with the mainland.

“As Taiwan’s largest opposition party, we hope to do something about the peace and prosperity that the 23 million people who live in Taiwan need,” Chiang Pin-kung told reporters in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Mr. Chiang, whose Nationalist Party ruled in China before fleeing to Taiwan amid civil war in 1949, was to dine with the governor of Guangdong province, which includes Guangzhou. Today, he plans to visit a shrine to Chinese revolutionaries before traveling to the former Nationalist capital of Nanjing and then Beijing.

Mr. Chiang is a Nationalist vice chairman and former economics minister.

Mr. Chiang’s visit comes two days after hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese, including President Chen Shui-bian, marched to protest China’s anti-secession law, passed earlier this month. The legislation allows force to be used against Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory, if the island seeks to make its de facto independence permanent.

Taiwan says the law is a pretext for an attack. China insists it only seeks to ensure the status quo and a peaceful resolution of the division between the mainland and the democratically ruled island.

Taiwan and China share historical links, but have been ruled separately for all but four of the past 110 years. Taiwanese were not allowed to legally travel to the mainland until the late 1980s.

In recent years, however, Taiwanese have poured $100 billion worth of investments into the mainland. The business connections have spurred calls for more contacts and the lifting of Taiwan’s ban on direct transportation links with the mainland.

Despite their traditional enmity, the Nationalists and Beijing’s communist rulers have drawn closer since Mr. Chen took office in 2000. Beijing doesn’t trust Mr. Chen, who heads the Democratic Progressive Party, while the Nationalists want eventual reunification with China and accuse Mr. Chen of provoking Beijing.

While many Taiwanese officials have traveled to China before, Nationalist officials are billing Mr. Chiang’s visit as the first official visit by leaders of their party. Both sides view the trip as formalizing a thaw between the Nationalists and their former communist foes.

Taiwan’s China Times newspaper quoted unidentified party officials in Beijing as saying Mr. Chiang will likely meet Jia Qinglin, head of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament. The newspaper said the delegates will also discuss a potential visit by Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan. If realized, it would be the first visit to China by the party’s chairman in decades.

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