Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's rejection of an overture from the mainland on resuming cross-strait direct links indicates the timing for such a move is not ripe for Mr Chen's re-election bid in 2004, analysts said yesterday. Beijing has adjusted its strategy towards Taipei in its latest campaign, offering to reopen direct trade and transport links and put aside sensitive political pre-conditions. And President Chen appears to have been caught off-guard. Chen Kongli, a mainland scholar at the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University in Fujian, said: 'Mr Chen sees the resumption of direct links as a bargaining chip [in his dealings with Beijing]. He will only use this chip at a time when he can draw the most interest such as at the height of his presidential run in 2004.' The business sector in Taiwan supports resuming trading, communication and transport links. If these were implemented, it would give Mr Chen huge political kudos. Mainland officials recently suggested that talks between private businesses could start as early as November and this created expectations among some Taiwanese businessmen who wish to benefit from investing on the mainland. Vice-Premier Qian Qichen last Friday indicated that negotiating groups entrusted by Taiwan need not overtly endorse the 'one China' principle, which the mainland has in the past insisted upon as a pre-condition for negotiations. Since Mr Chen came to power in 2000, the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party and opposition parties have bickered over the definition and possible political implication of 'one China', which Beijing interprets as recognition of the mainland and Taiwan as belonging to one sovereign entity. Theoretically the offer of the withdrawal of demands to overtly endorse the 'one China' principle would remove the controversial obstacle of reopening the talks, but Mr Chen on Sunday snubbed the mainland initiative, saying it was trapping Taiwan with Beijing's presumption that direct links were a 'domestic affair'. Mainland analysts on Taiwan affairs said Mr Chen's negative reaction to Beijing's overture was to be expected. If cross-strait links were opened at the end of this year it would be too early for Mr Chen's presidential campaign and therefore he would try his best to delay the process, Professor Chen said. It was also a question of who would get the credit for opening the links, he said. Since Beijing had delivered the message of greater flexibility at a series of meetings with opposition politicians, President Chen was afraid the credit would go to his political foes if direct links were implemented in the near future, Professor Chen said. Shih Chih-yu, an academic at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, said the latest drive by Beijing marked the end of an internal debate on the mainland on how to deal with President Chen. The latest developments on the mainland indicated the pragmatic camp had got the upper hand in the debate. Some sceptics have previously claimed that Beijing should not give President Chen the credit of realising direct links because of his pro-independence stance. The latest campaign apparently indicates Beijing leaders, who wanted unification with Taiwan, are convinced that direct links will, in the long run, strengthen ties between the mainland and the island. And Beijing's leaders even appear to favour setting up direct links while President Chen is in power. Yang Jian, the deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Research Centre at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said China's drive to establish links was not purely a political calculation because direct links would carry economic benefits for both sides. Now the ball was back in President Chen's court, Professor Chen said the president would most likely try to blame the deadlock on the mainland side by citing Beijing's political intransigence. President Chen would have to convince the Taiwanese public that it was the mainland, not Taiwan, which had blocked the reopening of direct transport services, while some of his allies might cite security reasons and link the boom in investment on the mainland to the island's unemployment problems, Professor Chen said.