Beijing summit cements thaw in cross-strait ties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2008, 12:00am

Hu vows priority on issue of Taiwan's WHO participation

Leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait yesterday held their first summit in more than 60 years, scoring a minor breakthrough on Taiwan's future participation in international bodies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO).

President Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party, and Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang, held an hour-long meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, cementing high-level talks between the two ruling parties.

They highlighted the cordial approach between the two sides following the Sichuan earthquake to express their wishes for renewed cross-strait co-operation, made possible following Ma Ying-jeou's victory for the KMT in the Taiwanese presidential election in March. Mr Hu invited Mr Wu to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August, which he accepted.

While the two sides praised each other for their generosity and leadership following the earthquake, they also discussed sensitive issues. Mr Wu said the talks focused on early implementation of regular weekend charter flights for Taiwanese on the mainland and approval for more mainland tourists to visit Taiwan. He also raised the issue of Taiwan's international status and its security.

Mr Wu confirmed that future talks would be conducted on the basis of the '1992 consensus' and would be based on the principle of 'seeking common ground and accepting differences'. The consensus refers to an understanding reached in Hong Kong by the two sides to set aside political differences to continue with talks. Xinhua reported Mr Hu as saying that after the two sides resumed dialogue through the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats) and the Straits Exchange Foundation, Taiwan's role in international activities could be discussed and priority would be given to the issue of Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Taipei has fought hard with Beijing over the years regarding its absence from the world health body, claiming that Beijing has placed politics above human lives.

In their public speeches, both Mr Hu and Mr Wu put their differences behind them. In a reference to the earthquake, Mr Hu said 'all sons and daughters of the Chinese heritage, including our Taiwanese compatriots' had not only shown, in a time of crisis, the 'spiritual force uniting our ethnicity to help each other and overcome hardship' but this would also 'become a powerful motivation for people on the two sides of the [Taiwan] Strait to join hands and pioneer a promising future for cross-strait co-operation'.

Mr Hu thanked the Taiwanese for their generous earthquake donations and for relief teams, while Mr Wu thanked Beijing for ensuring the safe return of 2,890 Taiwanese tourists caught in the quake. Mr Wu said: 'Between Taiwan and the mainland, no one can guarantee that there will never be natural disasters again; but through mutual endeavours we can ensure that there will never be war.'

Mr Wu also said Taiwan would make plans to invite the future Arats chairman, who has still to be appointed, to make a visit. Former chairman Wang Daohan was invited by Taipei in 1998 but cross-strait ties soured later and the visit was never realised. Wang died three years ago.