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World News

China pledges reconciliation with Taiwan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China vowed on Thursday to seize a chance for reconciliation with Taiwan and respect the desire of Taiwan’s people to be their own masters, a sign it is in no hurry to bring the island it claims as its own back to the fold.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou pays respect to soldiers who died fighting during the civil war with mainland China communists at the Martyrs Shrine in Taipei May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Chiang Ying-ying/Pool

Chinese Minister of Taiwan Affairs Chen Yunlin, speaking two days after Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan’s new president, ending the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party’s troubled eight-year rule, said both sides were making “positive” efforts to resume negotiations. There is no timetable for talks.

“We understand, trust and care about Taiwan compatriots and respect the desire of Taiwan compatriots to be masters of their own destiny,” Chen said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

It was China’s first response to Ma’s inauguration speech on Tuesday in which he offered to reopen dialogue but pledged to maintain Taipei’s self-rule and separate international profile.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since their split in 1949 when Mao Zedong’s Red Army won the civil war and drove Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Nationalists troops fleeing to Taiwan.

In an overture, Chen said China and Taiwan faced a “rare and important opportunity” for reconciliation after Ma won the March presidential elections by a landslide.

But China would “continue to oppose and contain ‘Taiwan independence’ splittist activities”, Chen said.

“CREATING A WIN-WIN”

After a period of detente in the late 1980s and early 1990s, China’s policy towards Taiwan went from pushing for unification and menacing the island with war games from 1995-96 under then president Jiang Zemin to preventing the island from formally declaring independence and resorting to divide-and-rule tactics under incumbent President Hu Jintao.

China and Taiwan should “establish mutual trust, set aside disputes and differences and create a win-win”, Chen said.

After negotiations on an equal footing resume, China hopes to “gradually establish a new cross-Strait framework for peace and development”, Chen said.

Issues left over by history and new problems could be resolved, he said, without elaborating. It was unclear from the comments if China would accommodate Taiwan, which still styles itself as the Republic of China, and stop pushing it into diplomatic isolation.

Chen made it clear China would not abandon its “fundamental policy of realizing peaceful unification of the motherland”.

He extended an olive branch to pro-independence diehards in Taiwan, saying those who “misunderstood or had doubts” about China were welcome to visit.

Chen vowed to push harder for an end to a decades-old ban on direct air and shipping links with Taiwan and for expanding economic and cultural exchanges.

Despite the political rivalry between China and Taiwan, bilateral trade, investment and tourism have blossomed. Taiwan investors have poured more than $100 billion into China.

In Taiwan, eight airports are adding safety and currency exchange features to receive up to 3,000 Chinese tourists daily from early July after the two sides signed a landmark weekend direct flight agreement, Premier Liu Chao-hsiun said.

“This latest progress is in accordance with our existing plans,” Liu told a news conference after the new cabinet’s first meeting. “We are profoundly optimistic.”

Taiwan residents have been among the top donors in the wake of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake which left a trail of death and destruction in China’s southwestern province of Sichuan.

As of Wednesday, Taiwan companies and residents had donated 750 million yuan ($107 million) in cash to Sichuan quake victims in addition to relief goods.

Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng in Beijing and Ralph Jennings in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb

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