Nearly two years of tension across the Taiwan Strait yesterday appeared to be easing with news that a senior negotiator whose organisation handles talks with Beijing is to visit China later this month. Lee Ching-ping , deputy secretary-general of the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation, said that he had received 'verbal agreement' from the foundation's mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, for it to resume mainland trips. Mr Lee said that he would make a 10-day trip to Beijing, Zhengzhou, Chengdu and Shanghai accompanying a Taiwanese delegation which would hold talks with mainland counterparts. Mr Lee, who last visited the mainland in June 1995, said that he would invite his counterpart, Liu Gangqi, to visit Taiwan. Meanwhile, in another sign that ties were apparently warming, authorities in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, were yesterday preparing to receive the first mainland vessel to dock in Taiwan since 1949. Taipei has banned cross-strait links since then, but agreed two years ago to let foreign-registered vessels transship mainland cargoes to third destinations via Kaohsiung. Yesterday, the Kaohsiung Harbour Bureau said that it had received applications from three mainland-based shippers to dock at a special 'offshore transshipment centre' set up within the harbour. The shippers were expected to gain Taiwanese approval 'within a week', a harbour official said. Authorities in China last week approved five mainland-based shippers to operate Taiwan sailings via the Fujian ports of Fuzhou and Xiamen. A similar number of Taiwan shippers were reported to be seeking similar permission.