A SEMI-OFFICIAL Chinese news agency is optimistic cross-strait exchange and co-operation will improve this year despite the controversy created by Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's current visit in Asian countries. The China News Service said the conclusion of talks between two quasi-official bodies from Beijing and Taipei earlier this month - the third held since last May - would facilitate the positive development of cross-strait relations. ''People are hoping their fourth meeting scheduled for March in Beijing will reach even greater breakthrough and agreements. ''This will create a beneficial atmosphere for the second 'Wang-Koo summit' to be held within this year and bring new opportunity for breakthrough in cross-strait relations,'' the commentary said. The previous three sets of unofficial talks by the Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait were held after the summit between their leaders Wang Daohan and Koo Chen-fu in Singapore in May. ''All indications are that exchanges and co-operation between the two sides this year will be better than that of last year,'' it said. The commentary noted contacts and co-operation in various areas ranging from science and technology to culture and economy have flourished following the ''Wang-Koo'' talks. These included mushrooming mutual visits of cultural and arts groups, booming trade between the two sides and a record number of Taiwanese visitors to the mainland. But it added that there were still a lot of areas that needed to be improved. One area that met strong criticism from the Taiwanese people was the failure of the Taiwan authorities to heed public demands by opening direct flight across the Taiwan Strait, it said. ''This makes Taiwan visitors and business spend more money and time unnecessarily [in having to fly via a third region].'' It said it would be a ''major test'' for the Taiwan authorities to immediately remove the man-made obstacles.