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Communist, Nationalist Leaders Meet in Beijing

  • Luis Ramirez

Leaders of China's historic enemies, the Communist party and the Taiwan-based Nationalist party, the Kuomintang, have held a historic meeting in Beijing. The two leaders agreed to work toward easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese state media devoted much attention to the meeting, portraying the encounter as a long-awaited reunion.

Reporters on Friday were invited to witness the moment in which President Hu Jintao - also the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party - stood in the Great Hall of the People and waited as Nationalist Party leader Lien Chan walked up with his hand extended. President Hu welcomed Mr. Lien, and took his hand.

"Your coming is a great thing for relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang," said Hu Jintao. "It is a great thing for cross-straits relations, as well."

It was the first time a Communist Party chairman had met a Nationalist Party leader since the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan, following its defeat by Communist forces in 1949.

At a briefing later, Mr. Lien announced the two sides had agreed on a five-point plan to boost trade links and dialogue - all part of a bid to ease cross-Strait tensions.

The Taiwanese opposition leader has no legal authority to sign any agreements with the mainland. At the briefing, he said Friday's plan was merely a set of suggestions.

Critics have accused Lien Chan, who lost a presidential bid last year, but has never conceded defeat, of using his week-long visit as an attempt to undermine Taiwan's pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian.

Mr. Lien's visit comes at a time when a debate is intensifying on Taiwan over whether the island should contemplate eventual reunification with the mainland, or pursue formal independence.

Chung Lai is a researcher at the Taiwan Think Tank, an independent policy research institute in Taipei. He calls the Lien visit a clever political move.

"Having the visit to China, Lien is able to position himself in Taiwan's political scene as one who could negotiate with China better than current President Chen Shui-bian," said Chung Lai.

With trade between Taiwan and the mainland booming, Taiwanese business people have been pressuring the island's government to improve relations.

The calls intensified after Beijing's passage last month of an anti-secession law that allows the mainland to resort to "non-peaceful means" against Taiwan, if the island formally declares independence.

Washington in March expressed concern over the new law, saying it did not help ease tensions. The White House this week welcomed Mr. Lien's visit, saying diplomacy is the only way to resolve the cross-strait issue.

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