Taiwan's incoming VP readies for possible Hu meeting
Taipei (AFP) April 10, 2008
Taiwan's vice president-elect flies to China on Friday for a forum that may include talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, in what would be the highest-level contact ever between Beijing and Taipei.
Any meeting between Vincent Siew and Hu would likely help smooth political tensions that have hamstrung relations despite the ever closer economic links tying the island to China, analysts say.
They say it will also be scrutinised by the United States, Japan and others who are monitoring China's surging economy for signals of any acceleration in the pace of Taiwan's economic rapprochement with the mainland.
Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war but Beijing still claims sovereignty over the self-governing island, so any suggestion of an official meeting is highly sensitive.
Siew is a veteran of the Boao Forum, held on the southern island of Hainan, having attended five times in a private capacity as chairman of a non-profit organisation, and has met Hu there in the past.
It will be different this time, however, as Siew was Ma Ying-jeou's running mate when the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang candidate won Taiwan's presidential election last month.
"It will be a window of opportunity for them to get to know each other and ease cross-Strait tensions," said Andrew Yang, secretary general of the think tank Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, referring to Siew and Hu.
He said it would allow the incoming government to "establish direct contact with the Chinese leaders."
"Siew, say, could take advantage of the trip and deliver a personal letter from Ma to Hu voicing his desire to end hostilities between the two sides," he added.
Siew has tried to keep such talk to a minimum.
"We respect the arrangements of the organisers," he said when asked earlier this week about a possible meeting with Hu. "I have no way of knowing whom I will meet at this moment."
However, he did note: "For years we have met with the top Chinese leaders attending the forum and this year we expect the same."
He has made it clear the forum would be a chance to show Taiwan's sincerity toward the mainland "and make it the basis of our mutual trust."
Political relations between China and Taiwan deteriorated during the eight years the island has been ruled by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
China has threatened an invasion if Taiwan declares independence, and there are still no major direct links with the mainland -- Siew himself is flying to Hainan via Hong Kong.
Economically, however, China has become Taiwan's number one export market and its biggest trading partner. Two-way trade last year reached a record 102 billion US dollars.
Ma has vowed to improve relations with China, increase trade, tourism and transport links, and work on a peace treaty to end hostilities.
Chang Hsien-chao, assistant professor at National Sun Yat-sen University's Graduate Institute of Mainland China Studies, said a Siew-Hu meeting would be watched closely by other countries too.
They "will keep a close eye on the event, they will watch if Taiwan starts speeding up the pace of economic integration with China," he said.
"Unlike APEC which is hosted in turn by different member states, the Boao Forum is staged permanently in China and has strong political implications. It is apparently aimed at building up China's role in regional economies."
About 1,000 people from a dozen nations are due to attend the Forum, which opens Friday and is focused on economic issues, society and the environment.
It runs to Sunday, and Siew's delegation will hold a round-table discussion on Taiwan's economic development.
Also due to attend are Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Presidents Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Michelle Bachelet of Chile, according to the forum's website.
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Taipei (AFP) March 25, 2008
Taiwan's defence ministry Tuesday unveiled plans to hold annual war games simulating a Chinese invasion of the island, despite president-elect Ma Ying-jeou's pledge to ease tensions with Beijing.
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