Representatives from often bitter rivals China and Taiwan are meeting in Beijing for the first formal talks in nearly a decade. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Following years of hostility, relations between Taiwan and China appear to be rapidly improving.

Representatives from both sides began meeting, Thursday, to discuss concrete issues - regular, direct cross-Straits flights and increasing the number of mainland Chinese tourists who go to Taiwan.

Other issues include additional Taiwanese help for Chinese earthquake relief efforts and setting up permanent offices in each other's territory to coordinate continuing contacts.

The two sides are not expected to discuss bigger political issues or China's vow to use force, if necessary, to prevent the island from declaring independence.

The head of Taiwan's quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation, Chiang Pin-Kung, says the fact that the two sides are even meeting, at all, is significant.

Chiang says progress has been made in recent discussions and interaction that have helped established trust between his organization and its mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

He says the two associations will serve as the bridge, in terms of negotiation, communication and other issues, to establish long-term peace and stability in the cross-Strait relationship.

The head of the Chinese association, Chen Yunlin, says China is especially grateful to Taiwan for offering aid following a devastating earthquake in southwestern China.

Chen expressed whole hearted thanks to Taiwanese compatriots for their caring about and help for victims of the Wenchuan earthquake.

China's official Xinhua News Agency says Chen has accepted an invitation to visit Taiwan, although the report mentions no specific dates.

Friday, the two sides are expected to announce agreements on direct, regular charter flights and tourism.

The Nationalist government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists in 1949. China still considers the island part of Chinese territory.

Cross-Strait relations were strained under the eight-year administration of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who Beijing saw as pro-independence.

In March Taiwanese elections, voters chose Ma Ying-jeou as leader. This choice returned the Nationalists to power on Taiwan and marked the beginning of improved cross-Strait relations.