TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - China and Taiwan will hold talks next month to hammer out the first steps in opening regular direct flights between the two sometimes bitter rivals, as ties warm following the election of a new president on the island.
China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, the country’s main channel for talks in the absence of formal government relations, will meet its Taiwan counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation, in Beijing from June 11-14, Taiwan’s top negotiator said on Thursday.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.
“Negotiations between the two sides have been dropped for quite a long time,” Taiwan’s top negotiator, P.K. Chiang, told a news conference.
“So for me to take office and start talks right away on some key issues, I think the meaning of that alone is great.”
The focus of the talks will be the opening of regular direct charter flights between the two sides as early as July and letting as many as 3,000 Chinese tourists visit the island daily.
There are currently no regular direct flights, aside from a few charters on holidays. China-bound passengers from Taiwan must change planes in Hong Kong or Macau, aggravating Taiwan investors who have poured up to $100 billion into China since detente began in the late 1980s.
Taiwan now tightly controls the number of Chinese tourists, citing security and visa overstay concerns.
There is no timetable for resuming political talks, frozen since 1999, but the two sides have edged closer since the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan president in March. Ma’s Nationalist Party regained power from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party with which Beijing refused to deal.
The June talks should lead to more high-level discussions later on, Taiwan’s Chiang said.
China’s half-page invitation letter, received in Taiwan on Thursday in response to a note from Taiwan, says the talks should produce “positive achievements” that will “satisfy compatriots on both sides of the Strait”.
“We hope the talks will make progress on the two issues to meet the expectations of people from both sides of the Strait,” China’s Xinhua news agency quoted the letter as saying.
Nationalist Party Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung is in China all week and on Wednesday met Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The Nationalists, who ruled all of China until 1949, hope forging closer economic links with China will buoy Taiwan’s economy, but they are in no hurry to unify politically.
Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton