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Taiwan Cautious Towards Beijing's Goodwill Gesture - 2002-01-25

Taiwan is cautiously welcoming a goodwill gesture from Beijing this week as a step toward improving relations. Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen signaled a softening of Beijing's hostility toward Taiwan's ruling pro-independence party.

Taiwanese officials say they are pleased by China's apparent warming toward their Democratic Progressive Party.

Thursday, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen invited members of Taiwan's ruling DPP to visit the mainland, saying only a handful of members are true separatists. He also called for renewed dialogue and stronger economic ties.

Until this week, Beijing ignored Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and his independence-leaning party, which took power in elections two years ago.

In Beijing, political scientist Tao Wen Zhao has said the change is an important breakthrough. "The [Chinese] central government has a policy of not contacting any party advocating independence. This is the first direct contact between Qian Qichen and the DPP," he said.

Professor Tao, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing can be flexible on the details of relations with Taiwan, but will stick with its fundamental principles.

Chinese officials want the DPP to acknowledge that Taiwan is a part of a single China before resuming dialogue on improving relations. Beijing has vowed to use force to recover Taiwan if Taipei declares independence.

Taiwan and the mainland split politically in 1949 after a civil war.

Friday, DPP officials on Taiwan called the invitation "progress" and a "demonstration of goodwill."

Political analyst Andrew Yang, said the invitation is a smart move by Beijing.

"Probably they [the Chinese government] recognize the political fact in Taiwan that the DPP, the ruling party, is probably going to rule Taiwan for many years. Therefore Beijing has to recognize this political fact, they have to think of something to deal with constructive cross-strait relations," he said.

Mr. Yang, of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, has said several things encouraged China to try a new approach including the entry of both the mainland and Taiwan in the World Trade Organization, and President Bush's upcoming trip to Beijing.

Taiwan is one of the most difficult issues in U.S.-Sino relations. The United States broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan decades ago when it recognized China - but it arms Taiwan and has pledged to defend the island against an attack from China.