May 27, 2008 / 8:19 AM / 12 years ago

Taiwan edges closer to China with one nation talk

BEIJING (Reuters) - China and Taiwan edged closer to a resumption of fence-mending talks on Tuesday when the chairman of the island’s ruling party echoed the Chinese line that both sides are part of a single nation.

Wu Poh-Hsiung (L), Chairman of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), gestures as he thanks members of an official welcoming ceremony after he arrived at Beijing International Airport May 27, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

China, which has claimed Taiwan as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war, has softened its policy towards the self-ruled island from pushing for unification with the threat of force to one of preventing a declaration of independence.

“Both sides are tied by blood to the Chinese nation and this cannot be obliterated by anyone,” Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said in Nanjing, the capital when the KMT ruled all of China.

Taiwan’s new president, Ma Ying-jeou, also made the pledge — a move Beijing considers a political necessity for talks frozen since 1999 to resume — in his May 20 inauguration speech.

When the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ruled Taiwan, Beijing redefined its cherished “one China” policy to mean “both the mainland and Taiwan” instead of merely “the People’s Republic of China” to try to accommodate the island.

The movement of cross-Straits relations appears glacial and opaque to most outsiders, but the “one China” policy — although defined differently by each side — is the pillar of stability in one of Asia’s most dangerous flashpoints.

China spurned the DPP, which was routed in the March presidential elections by the KMT. The Nationalists oppose independence but are in no hurry to get into bed with China politically.

After eight years of troubled ties between China and a DPP-ruled Taiwan, talks are set to resume under the KMT.

Wu is due to meet Chinese Communist Party chief Hu Jintao in Beijing on Wednesday — the first meeting between heads of the ruling parties of China and Taiwan in six decades.

“We should all seize this new opportunity in cross-Strait relations, face up to history, face reality and look into the future,” Wu said. “There are many difficulties, but so long as both sides are sincere, peaceful development will definitely have brighter prospects.”

For China, Wu’s visit this week appears to demonstrate that the Communist Party’s fundamental policy of eventually bringing Taiwan back to the fold is working.

For Ma, forging economic links is the priority and deals clinched during Wu’s trip may breathe life into Taiwan’s economy while he seeks to reassure the island’s protector, the United States, that it is not leaping into China’s arms.

Ma has pledged to launch direct weekend flights between Chinese and Taiwan cities by July and initially allow up to 3,000 Chinese tourists per day to boost the island’s economy.

Direct flights will shorten and cheapen time-consuming stopovers for Taiwan investors who have poured up to $100 billion in China since detente began in the late 1980s.

Ma has also said he will allow currency exchange between the Chinese yuan and the Taiwan dollar, let Chinese buy Taiwan real estate and push for a common market.

But Ma has also vowed not to unify with China, declare independence or go to war during his four-year term.

On Monday, Wu was greeted at the Nanjing airport by China’s minister of Taiwan affairs, Chen Yunlin.

“The sun shines again after the rain,” Chen said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The visitors and hosts observed a minute of silence to mourn victims of China’s deadliest earthquake in three decades. The tremor struck the southwestern province of Sichuan on May 12, killing more than 65,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

During his six-day visit, Wu will dine, but not wine, with Taiwan investors to show respect for quake victims. Taiwan businessmen have been among the top donors.

Wu’s 16-member delegation will also tour the venue for Olympic baseball — Taiwan’s favorite sport — and the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, in Beijing.

Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Chalmers

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