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China urges Taiwan to open economy door

Written by: Staff

Beijing, Apr 14: Taiwan opposition politicians and Chinese Communist leaders today urged Taipei to allow regular direct flights and expand trade with China, raising pressure on the island's independence-leaning president.

Lien Chan, former chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang (KMT), told a forum on cross-Strait economic cooperation that the lack of direct transport links between Taiwan and the mainland was hampering economic flows vital to Taiwan's prosperity.

''Faced with China's rise, we should be benign, optimistic and focused on co-existence and shared prosperity,'' he told the opening session of the meeting. ''Don't demonise and vilify China, and don't treat is as a threat.'' Beijing has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to attack if it formally announced independence. It refuses to deal with President Chen Shui-bian.

The Chinese Communist Party official in charge of Taiwan affairs, Jia Qinglin, told the forum that direct flights could be a ''breakthrough point'' to broader economic cooperation.

While the rivals allow some direct charters at Lunar New Year, Jia said flights should be more frequent and flexible.

The two-day forum is being attended by hundreds of Taiwanese business executives and representatives of the KMT, the main opposition party, as well two smaller Taiwanese parties that also favour closer ties with the mainland. The KMT ruled the whole of the mainland in the first half of last century before losing power to the Communists and moving their government to Taiwan.

Representatives of President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, which leans towards independence and is wary of mainland intentions, did not attend.

But Taiwan businesspeople said they hoped the meeting would add pressure on Chen to lift restrictions on investment in the mainland.

''The lack of direction and stability is damaging business,'' Wang Jen-sheng, a Taiwan investor with department stores on the mainland, told Reuters at the meeting.

Lien put forward four proposals for enhancing economic integration, including transferring Taiwan agricultural and banking expertise to the mainland, and exploring joint energy projects.

He also told delegates of his own discomfort at spending more than eight hours in flight to reach Beijing via Hong Kong.

Taiwan and China have persistently failed to agree on regular direct flights, despite offers and counter-offers, and all travellers must pass through a third place, usually Hong Kong.

Lien, who retired as KMT chairman last August, made a ground-breaking visit to the mainland in April 2005 that ended decades of open hostility between the Communist Party and KMT.


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