- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao met the head of Taiwan’s new ruling party yesterday in the highest-level meeting since a civil war split the two sides in 1949, an encounter that highlights a recent period of reconciliation between the two governments.

In the televised meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Mr. Hu told Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, of his wish to “look to the future and push forward the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

China claims sovereignty over the island and has made a series of threats in recent years to use military force if Taiwan moves to declare formal independence from the mainland.

But tensions have subsided dramatically since Nationalist Ma Ying-jeou swept to victory in the island’s presidential elections in March, promising voters that he would work to improve ties with Beijing.

Reuters news agency, quoting state media, reported today that China has invited Taiwan to hold more talks.

China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, the country’s main channel for talks in the absence of formal relations, has sent a letter to its Taiwan counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation, proposing the dialogue, Xinhua news agency said.

The letter invites Taiwan to send a delegation to China from June 11 to 14 to talk about opening regular charter flights between the two sides and letting Chinese tourists visit the island, the report said.

Mr. Hu yesterday pledged to give priority to both these issues, two key policies being pursued by Mr. Ma.

Direct flights are currently not allowed, which means Taiwanese businessmen have to take expensive detours via Hong Kong or Macao when visiting China.

Taiwanese officials predict that the lifting of the restrictions could increase Taiwan’s annual economic growth rate to 6 percent for each of the next three years, up from an average of 4.5 percent.

The pressing issue for Taiwan is the need to negotiate more of a presence in the international arena.

For example, Taiwan has been pushing for observer status at meetings held by the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) for the past decade.

China has repeatedly blocked the move, fearing that it would bolster Taiwanese claims of sovereignty.

“The Taiwanese people need a sense of security, respect and a place in the international community,” Taiwan’s Mr. Wu told China’s Mr. Hu.

Mr. Hu expressed willingness to discuss the issue, even though China had opposed another WHO application by Taiwan just days earlier.

China rebuffed Taiwan’s latest request for WHO observer status primarily because of a last-ditch display of antagonism from two-term President Chen Shui-bian in his final days in office, said Douglas Paal, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s China program.

Mr. Chen applied at the last minute for membership as “Taiwan,” instead of a name acceptable to Beijing.

“Even those in Beijing who saw this as an opportunity to press for a change in atmospherics and to lend Taiwan a little international space were set back by this late and transparently disruptive maneuver,” said Mr. Paal, formerly the top U.S. diplomat in Taipei.

“More conservative elements in China prevailed this time. They always win when they can argue that a concession would strengthen the pro-independence forces identified with former President Chen.”

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