US welcomes China offer of talks with Taiwan

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WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) The White House today welcomed China's offer of talks with Taiwan, calling it a step in the right direction for renewed dialogue between Beijing and the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, in an address to the opening of the Communist Party's 17th Congress, offered to enter into negotiations with Taiwan to reach a peace agreement.

He also warned Taiwan against formally declaring independence, but did not threaten force in response to such a move, as predecessors have in the past.

''The United States notes the moderate tone of President Hu's statement made today on the issue of cross-Taiwan Strait relations,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. ''We believe that President Hu's remarks were a step in the right direction on seeking to reinvigorate a cross-strait dialogue.'' ''As to President Hu's specific proposals, it is up to the people on both sides of the Straits to decide the terms and conditions under which exchanges, dialogue, and consultations occur,'' he added.

China has offered in the past to resume talks with Taiwan, frozen since 1999, when Taiwan's president, Lee Teng-hui, insisted that bilateral relations be described as ''special state to state'' which would imply that Taiwan was a separate country.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan 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 says the civil war with Taiwan has not ended, although bilateral trade, investment and tourism have blossomed.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognizing ''one China'' but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island, recognized by just a handful of countries, defend itself.

REUTERS RSA PM2330

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