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Taiwan Rejects Chinese Offer to Talk

Taipei has rejected Beijing's offer of talks, saying Taiwan cannot accept China's condition that it first recognize the principle of "one China." The offer came after visits by Taiwanese political opposition leaders to the mainland.

In a statement Friday, Taiwan's government accused China of trying to manipulate relations between the two through negotiations with Taiwan's opposition. The statement said such issues can only be discussed through official channels, and not between individual political personalities.

James Soong, left, shakes hands with President Hu Jintao
China has deepened contacts with Taiwan's opposition leaders in the last two weeks. On Thursday, James Soong, head of the Taiwan People First Party, met in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao. In a joint communiqué, they agreed to a new "two sides, one China" formula as the basis for talks about such issues as trade and direct flights across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949 and claims to be a sovereign state, but President Chen Shui-bian has stopped short of declaring formal independence. China claims the island as part of its territory and says the two sides must be reunited, by force if necessary. The United States has warned both sides against making any unilateral change in the status quo.

In an interview with Taiwanese television late Thursday, President Chen scoffed at Beijing's conditions for talks.

"We need to accept the one-China policy, we need to accept the 1992 consensus and oppose Taiwan's independence, [and] only then we are allowed for talks," he said. "Seriously, why would we want to go?"

David Huang, vice-chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, says developments in recent months such as direct flights during the Chinese New Year show that the two sides can cooperate even if Taiwan continues to maintain that it is a sovereign state.

"We don't see why we cannot negotiate on any of the substantive issues with China, even though we consistently reject the 'one China' principle," he said.

At the end of Mr. Soong's visit Friday, China said it would ease employment restrictions on Taiwanese residents on the mainland, simplify travel procedures and reduce tuition for Taiwanese students wishing to study there. Earlier this month, China also offered economic concessions and a pair of giant pandas to Taiwan following the visit of Nationalist Party chief Lien Chan.

The landmark visits by the Taiwan opposition have drawn mixed reactions back home. On Saturday, the island will have the first chance to see how they have affected President Chen's political agenda.

Taiwan voters will elect delegates to a special National Assembly, which will consider a package of proposed amendments to the island's constitution.

These include halving the number of seats in parliament, extending the terms of lawmakers, changing the way lawmakers are elected and using referendums to deal with future constitutional changes.

China fears President Chen will use such referendums to push forward his pro-independence agenda.