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Taiwan's President Calls for Talks with China


Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, is urging China's communist leaders to open direct talks with his government. His call follows a meeting between Taiwanese opposition leader Lien Chan and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing Friday.

The Taiwanese president's supporters have criticized Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chen's decision to visit China, accusing him of pandering to China's communist leaders in a bid to undermine President Chen Shui-bian and his pro-independence agenda.

Speaking in Taipei Sunday, President Chen said he too is willing to hold a dialogue with China.

"Regardless which political party or leader China wants to meet, eventually it must talk with Taiwan's popularly elected leader and the Taiwan government, and this will be the normal dialogue to start normalization of relations," he said.

President Chen says he will send a message with James Soong, another opposition leader, who heads to China on Thursday. He did not say what the message would contain.

Mr. Lien Friday became the first Taiwanese Nationalist leader to meet with a Chinese communist president since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan following their defeat by the Communists in 1949.

China has threatened to attack the island if it moves toward formal independence. Tensions rose in March when Beijing adopted an anti-secession law that allows it to resort to "non-peaceful" means to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

Analysts say that, while many people in Taiwan continue to call for independence, many are also concerned that formally declaring themselves a separate nation might lead to war and disrupt the booming cross-strait trade.

Polls released in Taiwan Saturday indicate more than half of those surveyed think Mr. Lien's visit is conducive to peace. More than a quarter disagreed.

Professor Philip Yang, an expert on international relations and security at National Taiwan University, says building consensus will be difficult because many Taiwanese continue to see reunification as unacceptable.

"On the other hand, Taiwanese people also like to be pragmatic and realistic, for economic development and also for cross-strait stability, he said. "That will be the major challenge for the politicians,"

The United States, which has promised to help Taiwan defend itself against attack by mainland China, is eager to see a peaceful resolution. The White House praised Mr. Lien's visit to China, saying dialogue is the only way to resolve the cross-strait issue.

U.S. officials expressed the hope that China's leaders will reach out to President Chen, saying a long-term solution can only be found if Beijing negotiates with the elected government of Taiwan.

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