March 4, 2008 / 1:24 PM / 11 years ago

China offers talks with Taiwan on equal footing

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao offered broad peace talks with self-ruled Taiwan under its “one China” policy on Tuesday, weeks before the island elects a new president, but Taiwan rejected Beijing’s conditions.

Paramilitary policemen march past tourists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square March 4, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

Hu also reached out to pro-independence politicians, saying China would welcome them if they shifted their stance.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war and insists the island accept reunification, by force if necessary.

Taiwan holds a presidential election on March 22 alongside a referendum on U.N. membership that Beijing sees as a step towards independence.

In an indirect but clear reference to Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who is due to step down, Hu said independence moves were a disaster and the biggest threat to peace between the two sides.

But in what Chinese media billed as an important speech before Taiwan votes, Hu focused on courting the island with offers of peace talks, but under the “one-China” principle.

“Status in negotiations would be equal and the topics would be open, any issue can be discussed,” Hu told a group of advisers to parliament who came from Taiwan or have ancestral links there.

The “one China” principle says the island and the mainland are part of a single sovereign country. Taiwan has rejected “one China” as an unfair precondition.

“China’s decision to use the strategic framework of a “one China” principle to deal with Taiwan in cross-Strait and international activities still has a final aim of weakening and extinguishing the Republic of China,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said on Tuesday, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

The narrow Taiwan Strait separates the island and mainland China.

OLIVE BRANCH

Hu also held out a conditional olive branch to pro-independence politicians who shift their stance.

“We must also strive to unify with people who have previously nursed illusions of Taiwan’s independence, advocated independence or even engaged in independence activities,” Hu said, adding that those who accept Beijing’s “one-China” demand would get a warm reception.

“We would be willing to have exchanges and dialogue, consultations and negotiations, with any Taiwan political party so long as it acknowledges that the two sides of the Strait belong to one China,” Hu said.

Hu, who doubles as Communist Party and military chief, also renewed an offer to seal a peace treaty and “form a framework for the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations”.

President Chen has been a thorn in Beijing’s side since taking power in 2000 with his pro-independence stance and often goading remarks.

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for China’s national parliament, which on Wednesday opens its annual session, warned Chen about the referendum.

National People’s Congress spokesman Jiang Enzhu said the situation in the Taiwan Strait was “grim and complex” and the vote on whether to seek U.N. membership under the name “Taiwan” amounted to a poll on independence.

But Hu appeared to signal that he would not make any dramatic moves before or after the vote.

He said China “would not waver in any way because of temporary turbulence in the situation, or make any changes because of the calculated meddling of a minority”.

Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie

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