The Chinese Communist Party and a delegation from Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party have made a symbolic deal to expand economic cooperation between the island and the mainland. Taiwan's government and ruling party officials, however, are criticizing the visit, calling it an effort by Beijing to divide the people of the island, which China considers a part of its territory.

Throughout its five-day visit, the Nationalist Party delegation has received warm welcomes from Chinese officials, who are eager to strengthen economic ties with Taiwan.

At a closed-door meeting in Beijing late Wednesday, the two sides agreed on ten proposals to expand economic links between the Communist mainland and the democratically-governed island.

In remarks at a dinner ceremony in Beijing, Chen Yunlin, minister of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, indicated that the meeting is a step toward achieving China's goal of reuniting Taiwan with the Communist mainland. He called the discussions on trade "important."

Mr. Chen says Beijing wants the Kuomintang to encourage private entities in Taiwan to negotiate agricultural trade, among other things, with the mainland.

Under Taiwanese law, political parties have no power to sign trade agreements, so this week's deal by the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, is seen as largely symbolic.

However, analysts say that for China, it was an important opportunity to employ its strategy of using economic incentives to stop what it perceives as moves by Taiwan's government to declare formal independence.

China has proposed increasing purchases of agricultural products from southern Taiwan, where analysts say Beijing hopes to erode the base of support for pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian.

Taiwan government officials and members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have condemned the Kuomintang visit, with one DPP legislator accusing the KMT of putting party interests ahead of those of the Taiwanese people.

The New York Times on Thursday quoted Joseph Wu, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, as accusing the KMT of cooperating with what he called China's plan to divide Taiwan's people.

Later in the day, KMT and mainland officials said China had invited the Kuomintang leader, Lien Chan, to visit the mainland. Party officials in Taiwan said the party had not decided whether to accept.

The KMT visit followed rising tensions over China's recent adoption of an anti-secession law, which Beijing framed as a legal basis for attacking Taiwan if the island declares independence. Passage of the law prompted hundreds of thousands to protest in Taipei last Saturday.