KMT head meeting Hu during China visit
Lee Su Shyan
Mon, May 26, 2008
The Straits Times
TAIPEI - THE head of Taiwan's ruling party will meet China's President this week, the highest-level contact in more than 60 years, as the two sides prepare to resume talks stalled for a decade next month.

Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung will fly to Nanjing today and will meet President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Wednesday, underscoring a rapid improvement in ties since the island's change of government.

Mr Ma Ying-jeou was sworn in as President on May 20, ending an eight-year hiatus in KMT rule during which cross-strait relations reached a new low under his predecessor, the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian.

Both sides are seizing the opportunity to clinch deals that will further entwine their economies.

The meeting between Mr Hu, who doubles as Communist Party chief, and Mr Wu is the first between the heads of China's and Taiwan's ruling parties in almost six decades.

In 2005, China rolled out the red carpet for Mr Lien Chan, then chairman of the KMT, at that time Taiwan's main opposition party.

The upcoming visit will pave the way for the revival of a formal communication channel between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

The heads of the semi-official agencies sat down for landmark cross-strait talks in 1993. But dialogue broke off in 1999 amid heightened tension.

Also high on Mr Wu's agenda would be starting weekend passenger charter and cargo flights as well as allowing more Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan.

Direct links have been cut since the two sides split in 1949.

Direct flights will shorten and make more affordable time-consuming stopovers in Hong Kong for Taiwan investors who have injected up to US$100 billion (S$135 billion) in China since the late 1980s.

'Hu (Jintao) needs a success from his charm policy and wants to get deliverables...as soon as possible to prove his policy is working,' said Professor Edward Friedman, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.

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

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

During his six-day visit, Mr Wu will express the KMT's concern for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. He will also dine, but not wine, with Taiwan investors in China, according to a KMT statement.

The Taiwan delegation will tour the baseball venue for the Olympic Games in August and the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, as well as pray for cross-strait peace and for quake victims at a temple in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu.

Analysts have said Taiwan's burgeoning love affair with the mainland is making the island's allies uncomfortable.

While both the United States and Japan welcome an easing in military tensions in the Taiwan Strait, they would prefer to see Taipei remaining in its own camp, according to the analysts.

'The Ma administration's steps to reach out to China in a fast manner may have caused concern for Washington and Tokyo, fearing it may get out of control and accelerate integration with China,' added Mr Lo Chih-cheng, political science professor of Soochow University in Taipei.


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