Old enemy is back ... but now as a friend

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 mainland 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.

It is the first time Mr Lien, who was born in Xian in 1936, has stepped foot on mainland soil since 1945.

'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.

'The best way to memorialise 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 a banquet with officials, including those from the Jiangsu provincial and Nanjing city governments, Mr Lien said he hoped his visit would usher in a new century of exchanges.

State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan said Mr Lien's visit would help the promotion of ties and easing of tensions across the strait.

'It will play a positive and important role in encouraging exchanges in various areas, including the exchange of personnel,' he said on state-run TV last night.

Relations across the strait have been strained since mainland lawmakers passed an anti-secession law last month, allowing Beijing to use military force should Taiwan move towards independence.

Liu Guoshen , head of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, said the trip might put pressure on Mr Chen and the pro-independence DPP and help the KMT in coming elections. '[It] could put pressure on Taiwanese authorities to consider their current position and political future,' he said.

Mr Lien's visit will be followed by one 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.

Mr Lien flew to the mainland via Hong Kong, and was met in transit by Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung.