April 15, 2009 / 3:48 AM / 10 years ago

China mulls military contacts with Taiwan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday denied that its military officers would meet Taiwanese counterparts in Hawaii this summer, but suggested the two sides could begin low-key defense contacts via retired personnel or academics. Chinese state media reported last month that officers would meet at August’s Transnational Security Cooperation forum organized by the U.S. Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, an institute under the U.S. Defense Department, in Hawaii.

Military honour guards perform during the Taiwan's National Day celebrations in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei October 10, 2008. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

“As far as I know, the situation to which you refer is incorrect,” Li Weiyi, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a regular news conference after being asked if Chinese and Taiwan officers would meet. If it happened, it would be the first such meeting since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and a further sign of improving ties between the political rivals, who have on several occasions over the past decades threatened to reignite their military standoff.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949 and has vowed to bring the island under mainland rule, by force if necessary.

China did not approve of using third parties to talk about military matters with Taiwan, Li said.

“Military exchanges across the Strait are an issue for both sides, and academics from both could first have scholarly exchanges on a security mutual trust mechanism,” he said.

“It could also start with exchanges between retired officers, to start off military contacts between the two sides,” he added. “I think this is a constructive way of thinking, as well as appropriate and positive.”

A Taiwan Defense Ministry official said military exchanges through academics or retired personnel was an idea “worth evaluating,” but did not elaborate.

Since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office last May, the China-friendly leader has eased tension with Beijing through trade and tourism deals, although military distrust lingers.

Taiwan estimates China still has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island and that it is continuing to expand its arsenal.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognizing “one China,” but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself and is its biggest arms supplier.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Ralph Jennings in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie

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