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Once hostile Taiwan and China to sign more deals

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Negotiators for China and Taiwan will meet next week, as Beijing sends its highest-level official in decades to the self-ruled island that it claims as its own to sign a list of deals over a din of protests.

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The November 3-7 talks mark another thaw in relations between the two sides since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May on pledges to improve the island’s economy by getting a piece of China’s booming markets.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

“Symbolically, the meeting is important because it conveys a message from the Chinese government and leadership that they are supporting this process to enhance interaction,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Taiwan think tank, China Council of Advanced Policy Studies.

“It’s also conducive to (President) Ma’s commitment to keeping peace,” he said.

Chen Yunlin, Beijing’s top negotiator on Taiwan affairs, will lead a 60-person team to the island on Monday.

During the week, he and Taiwan counterpart P.K. Chiang will negotiate shortening routes for direct flights, which started in July following landmark two-way talks in Beijing after a decades-long ban due to security concerns.

They also aim to add six new Chinese airports to the destination list and allow daily direct flights, up from four days a week now.

Another deal on the table could open direct sea cargo routes between four Taiwan ports and 10 China ports, sparing costly detours required now over sovereignty concerns.

Additionally, the two sides will discuss direct air cargo flights, expanded direct postal links and a framework to handle food safety issues in light of China’s contaminated milk powder scandal that has prompted product recalls around the world.

Chen, who gave a group interview to Taiwan media on Thursday, added he would talk to his Taiwan counterparts about cooperation to handle the global financial crisis.

After the deals are signed, Chen is due to meet Taiwan’s president in his official capacity even though Beijing does not recognise Taiwan leadership titles that imply sovereignty.

Ma has said he wants the two sides -- the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, which is Taiwan’s official name -- not to deny each other’s existence.

Fearful that the two sides will secretly sign political deals that compromise Taiwan, the island’s main opposition party is planning demonstrations at Taipei’s railway station and near the venue of the talks, a giant Taipei hotel, local media say.

“The Democratic Progressive Party is planning more functions to ensure that Mr Chen and the international community will hear the true sentiments of the Taiwanese people regarding China’s Taiwan policy,” a party spokesman said in a statement.

Editing by Bill Tarrant