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China Ready to Negotiate with Taiwan - 2002-06-25

For the first time, China has outlined specific steps to negotiate direct links with Taiwan. However, direct transportation across the Taiwan Strait still may be years away.

The official China Daily newspaper quotes Li Bingcai, deputy head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, as saying business groups could hold initial talks on opening links.

Industrial bodies would represent the two governments and sign agreements on technical details, including which ports to open.

Mr. Li reportedly said the two governments would then approve the agreements, and authorize direct trade links. He laid out the proposal in meetings Monday with Taiwanese legislators.

The proposal is the latest in a series of overtures by China and Taiwan in the past two months about setting up direct links. Taipei has banned ships and airplanes from traveling across the Taiwan Strait since 1949, when Nationalists fled China after their defeat by Communist troops.

Liu Guoshen is a scholar at the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University in Fujian.

He says that more and more Taiwanese businesses are pushing Taipei to end the ban on direct links. He says Taiwanese executives waste time and money having to stop at a third port traveling to and from China.

Mr. Liu says direct trade links across the Taiwan Strait would significantly ease tensions between the two sides. He says it is inconceivable that Beijing would step up military threats against the island just because ships and planes are allowed to travel there directly.

Beijing has threatened to attack Taiwan if it declares independence or opposes unification with the mainland.

Despite the movement toward opening links, Mr. Liu says Taipei is unlikely to lift its ban for a few more years.

One problem may be China's condition that direct links should be treated as a domestic issue. That appears to be another way of stressing Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China and must agree to the mainland's one-China policy. Taiwan politicians are not likely to accept that condition.