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Taiwan opposition leader, China’s Hu meet

Taiwan’s opposition leader met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday, capping a historic reconciliation between his party and mainland communists whose civil war split China more than half a century ago.
China's President Hu shakes hands with Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan during a meeting in Beijing
China's President Hu Jintao, right, shakes hands with Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan during a meeting in Beijing, on Friday. China Newsphoto / China Newsphoto via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Taiwan’s opposition leader met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday, capping a historic reconciliation between his party and mainland communists whose civil war split China in 1949.

In a ceremony televised live in both China and Taiwan, the two men shook hands in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature in central Beijing, and expressed hopes of ending decades of hostility.

Beijing and Taipei should “focus on the direction of peace, stability and development for the future so that Chinese people on both sides of the (Taiwan) Strait can walk a path of peace and stability,” Hu told Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan.

Lien responded: “What we need to realize is reconciliation and peace.”

Taiwan’s government, however, said the meeting will not ease tensions between Taipei and Beijing because opposition leader Lien Chan failed to persuade China to recognize the island’s sovereignty

“The Chinese Communist authorities once again demonstrated that they were insincere about improving ... relations, and our government highly regrets it,” the Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement. The council is responsible for Taiwanese policy toward Beijing.

The Nationalists, who once ruled all of China, and the communists are now are united in opposition to Taiwanese activists who want formal independence for the self-ruled island.

China cites a 'new vitality'
Hu said Lien’s visit “has already injected new vitality” into relations between Beijing and Taipei, which have no official ties despite surging trade.

After the 30-minute welcoming ceremony, the two delegations began private talks.

A spokesman for the Taiwanese delegation said they agreed to work together to end hostilities between Beijing and Taipei and to “promote the establishment of a military mechanism based on mutual trust.”

Spokesman Chang Jung-kung also said the two political parties will jointly promote Taiwan’s involvement in international bodies. Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own territory and has tried to block its efforts to join such bodies as the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

Lien: 'We can't stay in the past forever'
Earlier Friday, Lien called for the two sides to “build a bridge to unite our people.”

“This is something that our people will welcome because we want to avoid confrontation across the Taiwan Strait and our people would like to see dialogue and reconciliation and cooperation,” Lien said in the 40-minute speech to students at elite Peking University.

“We can’t stay in the past forever,” he said.

Lien said recent Chinese reforms, including nonpartisan elections to village-level posts, are closing the political gap between the communist mainland and democratic Taiwan.

“No matter the speed and scope of political reform on the mainland, there is still considerable room to develop,” he said, adding that “in the recent past, the routes taken by both sides ... are narrowing the gaps and differences between us.”

Lien began his eight-day mainland tour on Tuesday in Nanjing, the eastern city that was the Nationalist capital. He says he hopes to ease tensions with Beijing, which enacted an anti-secession law in March authorizing military action if Taiwan moves toward formal independence.

Lien on Friday appealed to both governments to “maintain the status quo” — a reference to the unspoken deal under which Beijing refrains from attacking so long as Taiwan doesn’t declare formal independence.

Cheers on campus
He later walked around the leafy Peking University campus, where crowds of hundreds of students cheered as he passed.

“It’s good that he’s come here after so many years,” said Su Yonggan, a 28-year-old software student. “No one wants war.”

The Lien-Hu meeting was the first between leaders of their parties since Nationalist dictator Chiang Kai-shek and communist guerrilla commander Mao Zedong held talks in 1945 an attempt to create a national unity government. They failed to reach agreement and after four years of war, the defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan.

More recently, the Nationalists and communists have found common cause in their opposition to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, whose party favors independence. Chen was elected in 2000 in voting that put an end to decades of Nationalist rule in Taiwan.

Taiwan is a major potential flashpoint in Asia. Though the United States has no official ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s main arms supplier and could be drawn into any conflict.

Taiwan barred contact with the mainland for decades, but has eased those limits since the early 1990s. Since then, Taiwanese companies have invested some $100 billion in China.

Analysts disagree on whether Lien’s trip will help ease China-Taiwan tensions. Some say the former vice president and foreign minister can win Beijing’s trust. Others say Chinese leaders are using Lien to widen the schisms in Taiwanese society.