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Taiwan Nationalist Leader Lien Becomes First to Visit Mainland China Since 1949

Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan, speaks before press upon his arrival in Nanjing
The head of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang has arrived in China - the first such visit by a nationalist party leader since the end of the Chinese civil war 56 years ago.

Kuomintang chairman, Lien Chan, arrived Tuesday to a warm welcome by Chinese officials in the city of Nanjing. It was a stark contrast to the send-off at the Taipei airport where demonstrators, scuffled, threw eggs and shouted insults - calling him a traitor.

The Taiwanese nationalist party leader comes to China on what he says is a "journey of peace" aimed at easing tensions between the government of the democratically ruled island and the Communist mainland.

For Lien Chan, the return was an emotional moment, in which he recalled how he went to Taiwan as a child in 1946, three years before Communist forces took over the mainland - causing thousands of Nationalists to flee and set up a separate government on the island.

Arriving in Nanjing Tuesday, he said he would work to find new common ground.

"How to create a mutually beneficial and peaceful future is the concern of all of us, and based on this objective, the KMT delegation is ready to strengthen our efforts for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," he said.

Mr. Lien's agenda includes a meeting with President Hu Jintao in Beijing later this week.

Critics in Taiwan accuse Mr. Lien of allowing the Beijing leadership to use him as a means to divide the Taiwanese people, who are already torn between those who want independence and those who seek to maintain the status quo and possible eventual reunification with the mainland.

Other Taiwanese welcome the visit, which follows Beijing's passage last month of an anti-secession law that gives Beijing license to attack Taiwan if the island moves toward formal independence.

Raymond Wu is a former political adviser in Taiwan who now teaches politics at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute.

"This is the occasion [where] the opposition could take the initiative to see if there can be some movement and see if there can be some goodwill exchanged between the two sides," he said. "Because continuing the current impasse I think will cause a lot of adverse impact in Taiwan. If the resumption of dialogue does not happen any time soon, that trend will continue and hurt Taiwan's economy."

Trade between the mainland and Taiwan is booming, and China has become Taiwan's number one export market. Trade volume last year reached 1.6 billion dollars.

The United States, which has pledged to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, has warned either side to not take unilateral actions that would increase tensions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated that message during a visit to Beijing last month.