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China's President Calls for Talks With Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao says new talks with rival Taiwan should begin as soon as possible to maintain peace in the region. Mr. Hu's remarks come just days before he is due to meet President Bush in Washington.

Hu Jintao said Taiwan and China should resume talks on an equal footing and on the basis of a 1992 consensus, in which the two sides agreed the island and the mainland were part of "One China."

China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war. Since then China has considered independently-ruled Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Mr. Hu made the call for early negotiations Sunday in a televised meeting with Lien Chan, the former chairman of Taiwan's main opposition party. Mr. Lien was in Beijing for a cross-straits economic forum.

Without specifying current government members, Mr. Hu said Sunday elements in Taiwan were creating obstacles to better relations by refusing to honor the consensus.

Mr. Hu says ignoring the people's wishes, some people are denying the consensus of 1992 and deliberately damaging the status quo, which is that the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China. He adds that only by honoring the consensus can the two sides achieve the goal of peaceful development and common prosperity.

Beijing has sought to isolate Taiwan's independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian by developing ties with the opposition Nationalists. Mr. Lien's visit to the two-day economic forum was his third in the past year.

The United States has urged China to talk directly to Taiwan's leaders but the Beijing government says it will not negotiate with anyone who does not honor the 'One China' policy.

China has also repeatedly stressed the importance of improving economic ties with Taiwan and on Saturday pledged a package of trade and economic benefits, including aviation, agriculture and finance deals.

Mr. Hu also announced that China's economy grew by more than 10 percent in the first quarter of this year. However, he insisted China was not deliberately pursuing high-speed growth and was more concerned about the environment and people's livelihood.

Mr. Hu's visit to the United States begins on Tuesday. While there he will meet with President Bush for talks that will include Taiwan and trade issues.