updated 5/26/2008 5:42:56 AM ET 2008-05-26T09:42:56

The leader of Taiwan’s new ruling party promised Monday to seek peace and economic engagement with China ahead of his trip to the mainland to meet President Hu Jintao.

Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of the Nationalist Party, is making the six-day trip at the invitation of China. It’s the first mainland visit by the head of a ruling Taiwanese party.

The trip comes less than a week after Nationalist Ma Ying-jeou took office as Taiwan’s president.

“I hope my trip will be conducive to the peaceful development of the two sides and enhance Taiwan’s security as well as people’s economic well-being,” Wu said prior to his departure Monday from Taipei.

The Nationalists fought a bloody civil war with the Chinese communists on the mainland, and their defeated forces fled and resettled in Taiwan in 1949.

The ice between the sides was first broken in 2005 when then-Chairman Lien Chan of the Nationalist Party — the biggest opposition party at the time — made a historic visit to China.

Toward an end to decades of hostility?
Relations have further warmed since Ma was elected president in March. On April 12, then Vice President-elect Vincent Siew traveled to China and met Hu on the sidelines of a business conference in Hainan Province.

Ma has pledged to seek economic engagement with China and end nearly six decades of hostility, a platform that played well with voters following eight years of a confrontational approach by ex-President Chen Shui-bian. Chen wanted formal independence, a stance that had enraged Beijing.

China demands unification with the self-governed island and has threatened to attack if Taiwan seeks a permanent break.

On Saturday, Ma told Wu to urge the Chinese government to quickly sanction expanded tourism to Taiwan and weekend charter flights to facilitate the travel. But he also made it clear Wu must not discuss the thorny issue of Taiwan’s sovereign status or unification.

Most Taiwanese reject unification, fearing it would deprive them of their freedoms and compromise their economic prosperity.

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