‘We need peace and reconciliation’

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Taiwan’s opposition leader met on Friday, holding the highest-level talks since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949, with both calling for an end to decades of hostility.

Beijing and Taipei should focus on ”peace, stability and development for the future”, Hu told Lien in a meeting shown live on television across China and Taiwan.

Lien responded: ”What we need to realise is reconciliation and peace.”

Lien’s visit is the first by a Nationalist leader since the party, which once ruled all of China, fled the mainland following its defeat by the communists almost six decades ago.

Relations between the two parties have warmed in recent years as they united in opposition to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian, who wants formal independence for the self-ruled island — a step that Beijing says it would go to war to stop. The Nationalists favour uniting the two sides.

After shaking hands and smiling for a group photo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Hu said Lien’s visit ”has already injected new vitality” into relations between Beijing and Taipei, which have no official ties despite surging trade.

After the 30-minute welcoming ceremony, the two delegations began private talks.

No details were immediately released.

Earlier on Friday, Lien called for the two sides to ”build a bridge to unite our people”.

”This is something that our people will welcome because we want to avoid confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, and our people would like to see dialogue and reconciliation and cooperation,” Lien said in the 40-minute speech to students at elite Peking University.

”We can’t stay in the past forever,” he said.

Lien said recent Chinese reforms, including nonpartisan elections to village-level posts, are closing the political gap between the communist mainland and democratic Taiwan.

”No matter the speed and scope of political reform on the mainland, there is still considerable room to develop,” he said.

However, he said, ”in the recent past, the routes taken by both sides … are narrowing the gaps and differences between us”.

Lien began his eight-day mainland tour on Tuesday in Nanjing, the eastern city that was the Nationalist capital. He says he hopes to ease tensions with Beijing, which enacted an anti-secession law in March authorising military action if Taiwan moves toward formal independence.

Lien on Friday appealed to both governments to ”maintain the status quo” — a reference to the unspoken deal under which Beijing refrains from attacking so long as Taiwan doesn’t declare formal independence.

He later walked around the leafy Peking University campus, where crowds of hundreds of students cheered as he passed.

”It’s good that he’s come here after so many years,” said Su Yonggan, a 28-year-old software student. ”No one wants war.”

The Lien-Hu meeting will be the first between leaders of their parties since Nationalist dictator Chiang Kai-Shek and communist guerrilla commander Mao Zedong held talks in 1945 an attempt to create a national unity government. They failed to reach agreement and after four years of war, the defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan.

More recently, the Nationalists and communists have found common cause in their opposition to Chen, whose electing in 2000 put an end to decades of Nationalist rule in Taiwan.

Taiwan is a major potential flashpoint in Asia. Though the United States has no official ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s main arms supplier and could be drawn into any conflict.

Taiwan barred contact with the mainland for decades, but has eased those limits since the early 1990s. Since then, Taiwanese companies have invested about $100-billion in China.

Analysts disagree on whether Lien’s trip will help ease China-Taiwan tensions. Some say the former vice-president and foreign minister can win Beijing’s trust. Others say Chinese leaders are using Lien to widen the schisms in Taiwanese society. — Sapa-AP

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