The call by President Hu Jintao for an urgent resumption of talks with Taiwan 'on an equal footing' is somewhat opportunistic. It comes just ahead of his trip to the US for a meeting with George W. Bush at which Beijing hopes to win support for its position on cross-strait relations. The plea for dialogue was made at a meeting between Mr Hu and Taiwan's former opposition leader Lien Chan. There was no change to Beijing's conditions for talks with the island's pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian. Mr Chen refuses to accept the so-called 1992 consensus, at the heart of which lies the one-China principle. He fears this will be used by Beijing to impose its will on Taiwan. But working on the basis of that consensus is the only way in which progress is likely to be made. Mr Hu's focus on talks and economic ties is encouraging. Unless there is dialogue, there can be no hope of ending hostilities and bringing peace and stability to Northeast Asia. This is a preferable approach to the sabre-rattling of recent years, in which military shows of strength and rhetoric on both sides achieved nothing but a determination to ignore opportunities to seek ways of finding a resolution. Mr Chen would seem to be interested only in a continuation of the standoff. His response to the meeting between the mainland's leaders and Mr Lien and a 170-strong Taiwanese business delegation was to preside over a drill simulating a 'national security crisis' to test the government's readiness for an invasion. That might, at one time, have been an understandable reaction. But two-and-a-half decades of spectacular economic growth have given mainland leaders confidence they lacked in the past. Before, their words may have been dismissed as mere rhetoric; now, they have international weight. When Mr Hu meets Mr Bush in Washington, the world will be listening intently. Mr Chen has so far chosen not to listen, preferring to appeal to his more hardline supporters with pro-independence moves. That has left his Taiwanese political opponents, who want closer ties with the mainland, in the driver's seat to mend fences. Mr Lien has been quick to take the advantage, last year holding landmark talks in Beijing with Mr Hu and other officials. By inviting business executives to what now appears to be becoming an annual event, he is capitalising on the reality of the increasing interlocking of the economies on either side of the strait. Beijing has not been slow to realise this, either, as the weekend economic forum revealed. Mainland officials pledged to lower tariffs and quarantine barriers on Taiwanese-grown fruit, vegetables and other farm goods, and to ease rules for investment in China. These gestures have mutual benefits. Closer economic ties will enable Taiwanese companies to help upgrade the mainland's infrastructure while also giving a boost to Taiwan's flagging economy. This is a sound strategy: so long as Beijing can keep talking and offering economic incentives, the more Taiwan will fall into its embrace. In such a delicate political situation, there is no guarantee that this will prevent a war, but it at least makes such an occurrence less likely. Mr Chen's approach does not offer such hopes. In February, he scrapped a symbolic policy-making body and its 15-year-old guidelines on eventual unification with the mainland, despite warnings from Beijing. Rules prevent him from standing for re-election in presidential polls in 2008; with his term coming to an end and seemingly being most interested in spearheading his ruling Democratic Progressive Party's independence agenda, difficult times lie ahead. Beijing's cross-strait policy involves numerous political calculations and pitfalls to negotiate. Some will be apparent soon, when Mr Hu's White House visit takes place. Nonetheless, negotiations, driven by economic incentives, are the only sound formula. Unless Mr Chen accepts that this is the way forward, he will find himself being increasingly sidelined.