Strait links 'on better footing'

Cross-strait relations have been improved by the visit of Taiwanese earthquake experts to the mainland, a Beijing official said yesterday.

But Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait president Wang Daohan did not offer any reconciliation with Taipei unless it dropped President Lee Teng-hui's 'two states' theory.

Mr Wang was quoted by the China Daily as saying he was ready to meet his Taiwan counterpart, Koo Chen-fu, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, once the island dropped its statehood claim. Beijing threatened to call off a planned visit to Taiwan by Mr Wang after relations went sour in summer.

Mr Wang denied reports that Beijing had held back relief to Taiwan in the wake of the island's devastating earthquake on September 21 and politicised aid efforts.

'Earthquakes are a common natural catastrophe on both sides of the strait, so people should co-operate on earthquake relief and prevention,' Mr Wang told the 50 seismologists from Taiwan.

A row broke out across the strait when Taiwan officials accused Beijing of delaying rescue efforts by prohibiting a Russian rescue plane from flying over its airspace.

Beijing's offer to seek a UN-sponsored rescue mission only on Taiwan's request also infuriated the island.

Two northern mainland provinces hit by a quake of 5.6 intensity on the Richter scale were spared heavy casualties on Monday because a minor tremor five minutes earlier sent people scurrying from their homes, the China Daily reported.

Despite widespread damage to buildings in Shanxi and Hebei provinces, which left more than 20,000 people homeless, there were no deaths and just 10 injuries.