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China Says Trade With Rival Taiwan at Record High, but Relations Still Strained

  • Luis Ramirez

China says trade between the mainland and Taiwan reached a record high last year - $70 billion. The figure highlights growing economic links between the two rivals, and it was announced just a few days before the first direct flights across the Taiwan Strait since 1949. However, remarks by a mainland official suggest the two sides remain as politically distant as ever.

China fired a new volley at Taiwanese officials, accusing them of continuing to incite hostility toward the mainland and pushing for the island's independence.

The comments appear to contradict a spirit of reconciliation surrounding the planned start on Saturday of the first nonstop flights between the mainland and Taiwan since 1949.

The harsh words also contrast with the growing economic connections across the Taiwan Strait.

Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Chinese government's Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, told reporters Wednesday that trade with the island rose by 34 percent last year to more than 70 billion dollars. That is the highest figure ever recorded.

Despite that, Mr. Li says relations remain strained.

Mr. Li says the current situation between the two sides remains grim. He also said the planned direct flights do not mean negotiations between the two governments would resume.

The flights will be charters operated by Chinese and Taiwanese carriers that will ferry hundreds of passengers - mostly Taiwanese businesspeople - across the strait without the usual change of planes in Hong Kong.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when Nationalists fled to the island following the Communists' victory in the Chinese civil war. Transport links were severed then and travelers between the two usually must travel through Hong Kong.

China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it moves toward formal independence and cross-strait tensions have risen following the reelection last year of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian.

Mr. Chen sought to ease those tensions this week by appointing a new premier - Frank Hsieh, a man many describe as a moderate. On Wednesday, Mr. Hsieh made a conciliatory gesture to Beijing by suggesting Taipei would backtrack on plans to change the island's official name from the current "Republic of China," to "Taiwan." China had protested the move as yet another step toward formal independence.

David Huang (Huang Wei-fang) of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council says the gesture was aimed not only at China, but also at the many Taiwanese who favor maintaining the status quo and oppose a name change.

"If there's no consensus right now, we may have to hold this policy until we have a clear idea of what the public opinion, what the will of the people, will rest," he said.

Many of those who prefer keeping the status quo are members of Taiwan's business community. The name change would have applied to businesses and institutions with "China" in their names. Some companies complained the measure would cost them money and prestige.

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