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Chinese Leader, Taiwanese Opposition Chief Discuss Thaw in Relations

The two-hour meeting was the first between a Communist Party leader and a Nationalist leader since the anti-communist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 following their defeat by communists during the civil war. Sealed with a ceremony and a handshake in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, the two leaders pledged to improve relations and avoid military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

“The two parties will work together to facilitate the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible … and facilitate the ending of a hostile state to achieve a basis for peace,” a spokesman for Lien told a news conference.

The historic meeting is a step toward closing the gap between Taiwan’s opposition party which favors reunification and mainland China.

Some, however, see China’s open-armed welcome of Lien as an effort by Beijing and Lien’s Nationalist Party to isolate Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has advocated for Taiwanese independence. Leaders from the DPP and some in the media have been extremely critical of Lien’s trip.

“We are disappointed that he went to an enemy country and did not express the majority view of Taiwan people, which is that Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country,” Chen Chin-jun, legislative whip for the ruling DPP, told a news conference.

At Friday’s meeting, the two parties discussed the resumption of dialogue between Taipei and Beijing and agreed to discuss the possibility of a common market. Although the scope of any economic agreement remained unclear, analysts said that it could lead to a lifting of duties on goods imported into China from Taiwan.

According to Reuters, political analysts have said that such a move could create a stronger market for products from the primarily agricultural region of southern Taiwan and might lead many of Chen’s supporters in the area to realign themselves with Lien’s pro-unification Nationalist Party, which ruled Taiwan until 2000.

A joint statement issued after the meeting also promised to promote Taiwanese participation in international bodies such as the United Nations, which Beijing has blocked in the past. Whether or not Taiwan would participate as a sovereign government or as part of the communist mainland is unclear.

Although some in Taiwan and the West questioned the meeting, Chinese officials expressed optimism that it was the first step toward resolving many of the long-standing issues between the mainland and island.

“We should show the world that Chinese from both sides of the Taiwan Strait have the ability and wisdom to resolve our great contradictions and problems … and to promote the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Hu said.

Lien echoed Hu’s words, saying the meeting was successful but cautioning his efforts could only do so much.

“Frankly, whether this can be done depends on whether the governing party will take responsibility. The Nationalist Party as an opposition party can only put it forth as a suggestion,” Lien told a news conference.

Chen, despite his political opposition to Beijing, gave Lien’s trip his blessing but warned Lien against signing agreements with China. Analysts said the success of the trip puts pressure on Chen to lead Taiwan toward reconciliation with China.

Taiwan’s independence bid has led to mounting tensions between the two governments with China threatening to go to war with Taiwan should it officially declare sovereignty. An estimated 600-700 ballistic missiles are positioned along the Chinese coast facing Taiwan.

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