KMT leader in historic return to mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am

'I feel deeply regretful that we could not have met earlier,' Lien Chan tells Nanjing welcoming party

Taiwanese opposition leader Lien Chan arrived on the mainland yesterday with hopes his historic visit will help mend ties between the former bitter enemies.

His visit is the first by a chairman of the Kuomintang, once the arch-rival of the Chinese Communist Party, since 1949.

The eight-day trip will take the 70-strong KMT delegation to four cities including Beijing, where Mr Lien is scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao on Friday.

Touching down in Nanjing , the capital of the former Nationalist government and the city where the party's founder, Sun Yat-sen , is buried, Mr Lien expressed hopes for better ties between Taiwan and the mainland.

'This visit is 60 years from the last [by the KMT]. Seeing all of you, I feel deeply regretful that we could not have met earlier,' he told the crowd greeting him at the airport.

'The Kuomintang delegation hopes to make utmost efforts towards this goal: peaceful, stable cross-strait relations. We really hope people from all walks of life and all related groups can work together with one heart, struggle together and strive together.'

Mr Lien's trip has already proved controversial on the island, especially with members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, although Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian eventually allowed the trip to go ahead.

Opponents, who flocked to Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek airport before Mr Lien's departure yesterday morning and scuffled with his supporters, have called him a traitor and a mainland propaganda tool.

Speaking at a welcoming ceremony, Jiangsu party secretary Li Yuanchao said: 'I believe this trip will promote our political, economic and cultural exchanges to develop cross-strait ties.

'Under the new conditions of cross-strait relations, the best way to memorialise Mr Sun Yat-sen is for people on either side of the strait to join together as one and check the development of Taiwanese independence forces.'

Before sitting down to a banquet with government officials, Mr Lien said he hoped his visit would usher in a new century of exchanges.

Relations across the strait have been strained since mainland lawmakers passed an anti-secession law last month, giving a legal basis to Beijing's long-standing threat to use military force should Taiwan move towards independence.

One mainland analyst said the trip might put pressure on Mr Chen and the DPP, which favours independence from the mainland, and help the KMT in coming elections.

'Communication and understanding among people could raise the recognition of the Taiwanese authorities and pressure them to consider their current position and political future,' said Liu Guoshen , head of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University. Mr Lien's visit will be followed by a mainland visit by fellow opposition leader James Soong Chu-yu, of the People First Party, from May 5 to 12.

A Taiwanese businessman who owns a clothing company in Shanghai played down the chances of a major breakthrough, but expressed hope for progress on some issues such as direct links. Taiwan bans direct trade and transport links with the mainland.

'I don't expect the leaders' talks will have much impact on ordinary private businesspeople. But we would be happy if there is some progress on charter flights.'

The two sides allowed the first direct charter flights this Lunar New Year, and many business leaders hope they become permanent.