BEIJING, Apr 16 (Reuters) Days before a summit with US President George W Bush in Washington, Chinese Communist Party chief Hu Jintao today called for talks between China and Taiwan as soon as possible to maintain peace in the region.
China and Taiwan should ''resume talks on an equal footing as soon as possible'', Hu told Lien Chan, former chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Nationalist Party, who led a 170-member delegation of business leaders and party officials to attend a two-day economic and trade forum in Beijing.
Throughout his speech, Hu stressed the importance of peace between the mainland and the island Beijing has claimed as its own since their split at the end of the civil war in 1949.
China has threatened to attack self-ruled democratic Taiwan if it formally declared independence.
Beijing has resorted in recent years to the divide-and-conquer tactics of talking to the opposition while isolating President Chen Shui-bian to force him to kowtow to its terms for talks. The United States has prodded China to deal with Chen directly.
Fence-mending talks between Beijing and Taipei have been frozen since 1999 when then-president Lee Teng-hui redefined bilateral relations as ''special state to state''.
China considers Taiwan a province, not an independent state.
Without mentioning President Chen by name, Hu said ties have not moved forward because the island's leaders have refused to embrace the 1992 consensus in which Beijing and Taipei's previous Nationalist administration agreed that both Taiwan and the mainland are part of ''one China''.
''Adhering to the 1992 consensus is an important basis for realising peaceful development between the two sides,'' Hu said.
OVERTURES Hu's overtures came on the heels of the abolition by Chen in late February of a symbolic body and guidelines on eventual unification with China.
''We will fulfil our promises to Taiwan compatriots. There will be no change just because of momentary fluctuations in the situation or a small group of people interfering in or sabotaging'' ties, Hu said without elaborating.
Lien, routed by Chen in the 2000 presidential elections and again in 2004, today said there can be no prosperity if there is no peace.
He warned of possible conflict with China due to a tug-of-war between pro- and anti-independence forces in Taiwan.
The forum between the Communists and the Nationalists, who favour closer ties with the mainland, ended yesterday when China held out a clutch of potential economic agreements intended to court Taiwan public opinion. Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party did not attend.
China offered aviation, agricultural and finance deals and urged Taiwan to negotiate on steadily expanding direct air flights. China also pledged to lower tariff and quarantine barriers on Taiwan-grown fruit, vegetables and other farm goods, and ease rules for tourism and investment in China.
Taiwan's policy-making Mainland Affairs Council was not immediately available for comment on Hu's comments.
In Taiwan, Chen presided over a drill simulating a ''national security crisis'' to test the government's readiness in case of attack, the National Security Council said in a statement issued shortly after the meeting between Hu and Lien.
Taiwan newspapers said the 20-hour drill, which started late yesterday, simulated scenarios such as China's launching attacks on the presidential office, defence ministry, airports, harbours and power plants, and involved high-ranking officials.
REUTERS OM PM1115