Hu salutes restart of cross-strait dialogue as 'good beginning'
Kristine Kwok and Ng Tze-wei in Beijing
President Hu Jintao yesterday hailed the historic resumption of talks between the mainland and Taiwan as a good beginning as he met the island's top negotiator.
The 30-minute get-together was held after negotiators from both sides signed agreements on direct flights and mass mainland tourism to Taiwan, major steps to improve relations through economic ties.
'The agreements are a good beginning in the development of cross-strait relations,' Mr Hu told Chiang Pin-kung, head of the 19-member delegation from Taiwan.
'The agreements will encourage exchanges between people on both sides and will facilitate the realisation of the 'three-links',' he added, referring to efforts to introduce direct trade, transport and communications across the Taiwan Strait.
Mr Chiang, head of the island's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), used the meeting with Mr Hu to raise the island's aspirations for a bigger international role.
'The pursuit of peace and prosperity is a common wish of people across the strait. Both sides should reconcile ... on both cross-strait and international issues,' he said.
'We hope to participate in world affairs more actively and we can make a greater contribution. I think it is only through this that cross-strait relations can move forward.'
Concerns over Taiwan's international position have remained a thorn in cross-strait ties, with the island's application for membership of bodies such as the World Health Organisation being turned down due to pressure from Beijing.
According to Mr Chiang, Mr Hu responded positively. 'Mr Hu said Beijing understood very well the feeling of the Taiwanese people. He added that as long as both sides worked to create the conditions and came up with something that both sides could accept, negotiations on this issue can be kicked off,' he said.
Mr Chiang has been in Beijing for a summit with his mainland counterpart, Chen Yunlin , director of the semi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats). Talks between the two bodies stopped in 1998 after then Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui enraged Beijing by saying the cross-strait relationship was a 'state-to-state one'.
The new agreements will see weekend charter flights between five airports on the mainland - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Nanjing - and eight in Taiwan - Taipei, Taoyuan, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Penghu, Hualien, Kinmen and Taitung. Routes to six more mainland cities will open later, depending on demand.
Arats secretary general Li Yafei said that in the first stage of the tourism scheme mainlanders from 13 provinces and cities would be able to apply for visas to Taiwan.
Mr Chiang yesterday admitted that another issue on which the two sides initially said they had agreed - the swapping of representative offices - was difficult and needed further discussions to realise.
The United States, meanwhile, welcomed the talks. 'We believe it's important for the two to work toward a peaceful resolution of the ... cross-strait issues,' US State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.
In Taipei, Kuomintang chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said he was satisfied with the talks.
The SEF delegation will head back to Taiwan today.