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BEIJING (Reuters) - The leaders of China and long-time rival Taiwan had rare direct political contact on Thursday after Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou sent congratulatory messages to China's new and outgoing Communist Party leaders, Xi Jinping and Hu Jintao.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of a civil war in 1949. China has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
While relations have improved dramatically since Ma's election in 2008, with a series of trade and tourism deals signed, there has been no progress towards political reconciliation or a lessening of military distrust.
"Looking towards the future, the great cause of rejuvenating the Chinese nation is in the ascendant, the two sides of the Strait expect a strengthening of mutual trust and sincere cooperation, which will benefit the people on the two sides," China's Xinhua news agency quoted Ma as saying in a message.
The message was sent after the new line-up of top Chinese Communist leaders was made public in the wake of the 18th Party Congress, at which Xi was appointed party chief. He will take over from Hu as president in March.
As governor of the frontline southeastern province of Fujian in the 1990s, Xi helped attract Taiwan investment to the region which lies directly across the narrow strait.
In response to Ma's message, Xi wrote back to say he hoped the Communist Party and Ma's Nationalist Party - once blood enemies - would seize a historic opportunity to improve ties.
Hu, who oversaw the improvement of relations with Taiwan, also wrote back expressing hope that the two sides could strengthen their cooperation.
Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Ben Blanchard