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China Willing to Negotiate with Taiwan, Under Certain Terms

China says it is willing to reopen negotiations with rival Taiwan if the island's government halts what Beijing officials see as moves toward independence. Beijing's overtures came hours before the start of the first nonstop flights between the mainland and Taiwan.

Talks between the two rivals have been suspended since 1999, when Beijing objected to Taiwan's insistence that China deal with it on a state-to-state basis. China regards self-governed Taiwan as one of its provinces, and has vowed to attack the island if it ever takes formal moves to break away.

Tensions have risen following the re-election last March of President Chen Shui-bian, who has angered Beijing by pushing for a new Taiwanese constitution - a move mainland officials interpret as a step toward independence.

But with nonstop flights between the mainland and Taiwan taking place for the first time since the 1949 Communist victory, Beijing officials sounded a conciliatory tone Friday, saying they are willing to restart negotiations for the eventual reunification of the island with the mainland.

Wang Zaixi, Vice Minister of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, on Friday quoted a senior Politburo official, Jia Qinglin, as saying Beijing was willing to negotiate with President Chen.

Mr. Wang said that regardless of Chen Shui-bian's past rhetoric and actions, China is ready to resume cross-Strait dialogue and negotiations immediately - that is, he said, if Mr. Chen accepts the "one-China" policy and stops his "independence activities."

Taiwan has been ruled separately since 1949, when the Nationalist government fled there following its defeat by the Communists in the Chinese civil war. Although the Nationalist leadership at first vowed to defeat the communists and reunite with the mainland, many Taiwanese now - especially those born on the island - have shown support for independence.

However, a significant number of Taiwan citizens prefer to maintain the status quo, citing both the military threat and the growing amount of trade between the island the mainland.

President Chen this week sought to reach out to this group of voters by selecting as his premier Frank Hsieh, whom many regard as a moderate more likely to be able to negotiate with Beijing.

Coinciding with the mainland's conciliatory statements Friday, Mr. Hsieh told reporters in Taipei it is essential to improve the atmosphere between the two sides. He said Taiwan's leadership should stop employing provocative policies and language, and start moving toward reconciliation and cooperation.