'When the spring weather is warm and the flowers blossom next year, the two sides should have an opportunity to reopen dialogue.' This remark by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian in October has proved uncannily prophetic. The two sides are about to engage in historic dialogue in a warm and breezy Beijing - but without Mr Chen. Taiwan's two main opposition leaders will meet President Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party officials over the next two weeks in the highest-level dialogue across the strait since 1949. Hundreds of reporters from Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan will cover the visits by Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuomintang, and James Soong Chu-yu, chairman of the smaller People First Party. The visits have been portrayed by international media as attempts to isolate Mr Chen and his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. The cross-strait warming comes barely a month after the mainland passed the Anti-Secession Law authorising the use of force if Taiwan declares independence, causing a flurry of international concern over the increased likelihood of military conflict. Looked at from any angle, Mr Hu has outmanoeuvred Mr Chen, with the Communist Party winning support on the mainland and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, transforming the cross-strait political balance and swinging international media comment in its favour. It looks unlikely that Mr Hu and Mr Lien will reach any substantial agreements that could jeopardise or challenge the authority of Mr Chen's administration. Instead, their agreements are likely to be broad, calling for peace and closer economic integration between the two sides. The meetings signal that Taiwan's two main opposition parties, representing roughly half of the island's population of 23 million, have effectively sided with Beijing over the one-China principle. The reaction from the United States, Taiwan's biggest supporter, has been favourable. In fact, Washington is said to have played a constructive role behind the scenes. The pressure is now on Mr Chen at home and overseas. To win back support in Taiwan, he could reconsider full and direct transport links with the mainland. But despite the pressure, Mr Chen is unlikely to recognise the one-China principle any time soon, a precondition set by the mainland for direct talks. He could, however, put the ball back into Beijing's court by offering to hold talks on the 10-point consensus he reached with Mr Soong in February. That consensus, believed to have been reached with US prodding, saw Mr Chen promise not to pursue changes to the constitution involving the island's official title and the cross-strait status quo. Beijing viewed those changes as dangerous moves towards formal independence. Although the consensus did not mention the one-China principle, the mainland leadership has publicly praised it as a positive development. Finding a way for direct talks between the ruling parties on both sides of the strait should be a priority.