BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the head of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party on Monday "equal" talks to resolve their political differences, but only if Taiwan accepts it is part of China, a concept many Taiwanese balk at.
Xi, in his role as head of China's ruling Communist Party, met Nationalist chairman Eric Chu in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the first meeting between the leaders of the old political rivals in six years, China's Xinhua news agency said.
Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists that has never formally ended. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
While business ties between Taiwan and China have improved to their best level in six decades since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, there have been no talks on Taiwan's political future.
Xi told Chu that the two should settle political differences through equal consultations, Xinhua said.
"The two sides can consult with each other on equal basis under the principle of 'one China', and reach a reasonable arrangement," Xi was quoted as saying.
Beijing's "one China" policy holds that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it. Many in proudly democratic Taiwan fear autocratic Beijing's designs on the island, and there is a strong pro-independence movement.
Xi said both parties "should be brave when facing lingering political differences and difficulties, pool wisdom of compatriots of both sides and actively search for a solution", Xinhua added.
Chu's Nationalists are viewed as pro-China, while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely seen as leaning towards independence, something China says it will never allow.
Chu made no mention of political talks in a transcript of his remarks released by his party, but said he hoped Taiwan would be allowed greater participation in international organisations, something hard at present due to Chinese objections.
Thousands of young people occupied Taiwan's parliament in March last year in an unprecedented protest against a planned trade pact calling for closer ties with Beijing and the Nationalists suffered a heavy setback in local elections in November.
Xi said China would ensure more economic opportunities for the people of Taiwan as China continues down its path of reform.
"Our efforts to open up to Taiwan compatriots will be bigger," he said.
This trip is expected to bolster Chu's influence. He has said repeatedly that he will not join the race for January's presidential election, but he remains the most promising candidate to rival DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen.