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Taiwan's President Invites China's Leaders to Visit

The president of Taiwan has invited China's leaders to visit the island, as Beijing offered economic concessions and a pair of giant pandas as goodwill gestures to its rival. Beijing responded coolly to the offer of direct talks with Taiwan's government.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian says a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao would help clear up misunderstandings between the two rivals. Mr. Chen says he hopes President Hu will come to see for himself and gauge the sentiment of the Taiwan people.

However, China was cool to the idea.

Wang Zaixi is the vice chairman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

Mr. Wang says China can not hold talks with Mr. Chen unless his party drops its pro-independence stance.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory.

Mr. Chen's conciliatory moves toward China came as Beijing said it would allow Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan and increase fruit imports from the island.

Beijing also offered to give two giant pandas to Taiwan - a gesture reminiscent of China's gift to the United States after former President Richard Nixon's 1972 trip that led to the normalization of ties between the two countries.

China's President Hu Jintao, right, talks with Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan during a recent meeting in Beijing
The gestures follow a visit to China by Lien Chan, head of Taiwan's Nationalist party, who met with President Hu during his historic eight-day trip. It was the first meeting between leaders of the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan and established a separate government there at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Analysts say Beijing's warm welcome to Mr. Lien is aimed at undermining support for President Chen and his pro-independence party. China wants reunification with Taiwan and has threatened to attack the island if Taipei takes steps toward formal independence.

National Taiwan University politics professor Lee Si-kuen says goodwill gestures will not be enough to narrow differences between the two sides.

"Any breakthrough between the two sides would be welcome news. But … after the news event, people in Taiwan will soon realize the reality is there - the hostility between the two sides," Lee says. "Look, we will face a very important decision in Congress - an arms procurement program. If we pass [the program], the tensions will mount again."

The Taiwan government wants to purchase billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry, primarily from the United States. Beijing repeatedly has pushed Washington to stop selling arms to the island.

Mr. Lien's visit has received mixed reactions in Taiwan. Some welcome the signs of improvement in cross-Strait relations that came with the visit, while others protested his trip.

Another opposition leader, James Soong of the People's First Party, will travel to China later this week. He is expected to carry a message to the Chinese leadership from President Chen.