Hu touts strong economy to lure Taiwan tycoons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

President launches charm offensive for island businessmen

President Hu Jintao yesterday sought to charm Taiwanese business leaders by touting the mainland's economic strength, and called for closer economic co-operation to rein in the island's secessionist activities.

He boasted about the vigorous growth of the mainland economy, and told 300 Taiwanese delegates to a cross-strait economic forum, led by the Kuomintang's honorary chairman Lien Chan, that closer ties with the mainland would provide a better prospect for Taiwan's future.

'China is experiencing robust economic development,' Mr Hu told the delegation at the Great Hall of the People.

'This has created much more room, a much stronger push and a more favourable condition for cross-strait economic co-operation.'

The two-day forum began amid controversy over next year's Olympic Games in Beijing. Taiwan has threatened to boycott if it is referred to as 'China Taipei' instead of 'Chinese Taipei' in the latest move by the pro-independence government to strain cross-strait ties.

Taiwan has also refused to allow the Olympic torch to enter the island because it said the relay route, squeezed between Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong, downgraded it to the level of a Chinese province.

The forum is the third since Mr Lien's landmark visit to Beijing in 2005 and is among a spate of activities organised by the Communist Party and the KMT, Taiwan's main opposition party, in recent years in an effort to warm relations.

No reference to the problems was made in Mr Hu's speech, but he stressed that it was a common wish of people on the two sides to foster relations that would yield mutually beneficial co-operation.

'Improving trade and cultural exchange between the two sides has now become a popular sentiment,' he said. 'We sincerely hope that compatriots across the strait will co-operate to enhance cultural exchange and curb the secessionism to maintain peace and build a better home.'

Mr Lien said negotiation and exchanges between the two sides should be the main ways to overcome obstacles to a better relationship.

'Today's China has opened up to the whole world,' he said. 'But the cross-strait relationship is still stuck in an impasse because of reasons that we all are familiar with.'

Mr Lien said he regretted the forum could not be held on the island although the opposition camp had been trying to promote trade ties between the sides.

He quoted an article from The Economist as saying that the Taiwanese authorities were conducting a cultural revolution by promoting pro-independence ideology.

This year's forum is dedicated to direct flights, visits by mainland tourists to Taiwan and cultural and education exchanges.

Mr Lien said in a speech that policies adopted by the island had marginalised its economy and made Taiwan unstable.

'Representatives from the European Chamber of Commerce [on the island] have explicitly said that, if the 'three links' were not released soon, at least 15 big European enterprises would withdraw their investments,' he said, referring to direct trade, transport and communications between the island and the mainland.

Mr Lien said allowing mainland tourists to visit Taiwan and having direct flights would bring huge benefits for industry.

Jia Qinglin, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman, also spoke at the forum's opening ceremony, and said organisations from both sides had been discussing mainland tours to Taiwan since October. 'As always, we will put our utmost efforts into realising the plan to let mainland tourists visit Taiwan,' he said. 'This is not country-to-country tourism.'

But doubt has been cast on the impact of such a forum as officials and members of the ruling and pro-independent Democratic Progressive Party are not attending. Despite dwindling expectations of the forum, the event still receives extensive media coverage on the mainland. CCTV played up the forum in its prime time news cast and denounced pro-independent activities.

Money talks

Taiwanese investments in the mainland over the last two decades, in US dollars 100b