China's president offers Taiwan talks, peace pact

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BEIJING, Oct 15 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao today offered to enter into negotiations with Taiwan to reach a peace agreement in an overture to the self-ruled island which China claims as its own.

Addressing the opening of the Communist Party's 17th Congress, Hu warned the democratic island against formallydeclaring independence, but did not take the opportunity to threaten force as predecessors have in the past.

''We would like to make a solemn appeal: on the basis of the one-China principle let us discuss a formal end to the state of hostility between the two sides (and) reach a peace agreement,'' Hu said, reading from a prepared statement.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan as a province since their split in 1949 when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Nationalists fled to the island.

China has offered in the past to resume talks with Taiwan, frozen since 1999 when then-Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui insisted that bilateral relations be described as ''special state to state''.

The China point man at Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party cautiously welcomed the overture.

''We would like to talk about everything. Our consistent position is to talk without any preconditions ... We want to wait to see more. (Hu's) actions speak louder than words,'' Lai I-Chung, the DPP's director of China affairs, told Reuters.

China insists the civil war has not ended, albeit trade, investment and tourism have blossomed since the late 1980s. An increasingly assertive Taiwan plans to hold a referendum next year on whether to seek to join the United Nations, ignoring warnings from the United States and China. Even if it passes, however, the bid is doomed because China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Hu has said the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics would be a period of ''high danger'' in the Taiwan Strait, seen as one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

REUTERS SS AS0923

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