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Taiwanese opposition leader meets with China's president

BEIJING—The leader of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, on a historic fence-mending trip to the mainland, met at length Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao and agreed to work with him on reducing military tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Hu greeted Nationalist Party leader Lien Chan as if he were a visiting head of state, saying his visit injects "new vitality" into efforts to pacify the tense strait.

Hu and Lien gripped hands warmly on a red carpet in the Great Hall of the People as major news channels in China carried unusual live coverage.

The high pageantry of the meeting appeared aimed at deflating pro-independence momentum in Taiwan and isolating the island's pro-sovereignty president.

Lien, who lived in China as a youth but fled with Nationalist forces to Taiwan when Mao Zedong's Communist armies overran them in 1949, is the first Nationalist Party leader to set foot in China in 56 years.

After a two-hour meeting, Hu and Lien issued a joint statement pledging an array of measures, including efforts to seek an end to cross-strait hostilities, build a mechanism for mutual military trust, facilitate the sale of Taiwan farm produce on the mainland and seek a way for Taiwan to participate in groups such as the World Health Organization, something Beijing has blocked.

It wasn't clear if the accords would carry more than symbolic weight. Lien narrowly lost his most recent bid for the presidency of Taiwan 13 months ago, and the Nationalist Party has little power outside the legislature.

In Taipei, the government of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian dismissed the Lien visit as unlikely to reduce hostility. A ruling party legislative leader, Chen Chin-jun, decried Lien for visiting an "enemy country."

Lien made frequent mention of the attacks on him for his visit to China.

"I'd like to be very frank with you," Lien said to Hu, "that this visit does not take place easily."

Lien's eight-day, four-city tour of China has brought intense interest in the region, where the Taiwan Strait is viewed as a dangerous flashpoint. China's leaders saw the visit as an opportunity to display a non-bellicose attitude toward Taiwan.

The Chinese government claims the island of Taiwan as part of its territory. Tensions soared last month when Beijing enacted a law enshrining its right to attack Taiwan to prevent any move toward formal independence. Taiwan, now a democracy, has been governed separately since the exodus in 1949.

While effusive in their welcome to Lien, mainland officials didn't publicly offer to remove any of the 700 short-range missiles China has aimed at Taiwan.

Earlier in the day, after receiving a standing ovation at Beijing University, his mother's alma mater, Lien hit a note of remorse at the decades of strained relations.

"Fifty-nine years ago, I left Shanghai as a young man. Now, I'm back to the mainland. Everything I see is totally different," Lien told some 400 students.

He called for leaders on the two sides of the strait not to upset the political status quo—either by moving toward reunification or independence—and to join together for economic benefit.

"We have to depend on each other," Lien said. "We can make money from the rest of the world. Why not work together? By working together, we can increase our competitiveness and realize a win-win situation."

Some 1 million Taiwanese live on the mainland, overseeing investments of $140 billion, primarily in electronics, textile and semiconductor plants.

Lien also called on China to embrace more political reforms, noting that his Nationalist Party under a former leader helped Taiwan usher in democratic rule.

The last time leaders of the two sides met was in 1945, when Nationalist Party Chairman Chiang Kai-shek appealed to Mao for a truce in their civil war.

Chiang's Nationalists, or Kuomintang, ruled China from the late 1920s until they fled the mainland in 1949.

In a meeting with Lien Thursday, a senior Politburo member, Jia Qinglin, warned that any move toward independence would be a "dead-end road" for Taiwan.

Chen, the Taiwanese president who's also a bitter rival of Lien, has enraged Beijing by declaring that his government will seek a new constitution by 2008, a move that the mainland sees as tantamount to a declaration of sovereignty.

China promises to allow Taiwan to maintain its freewheeling political and economic ways if it reunifies with the mainland, under the rubric of a "one China, two systems" that it applies to former colonies Hong Kong and Macao.

Chen belittled the formula Thursday, telling Hong Kong businessmen that Beijing's rule had eroded judicial and individual freedoms and economic development in their city.

"Only `one country' is true," Chen said. "The `two systems' are false."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050426 China visit

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