The hand of economic support Beijing extended to Hong Kong on Friday has now been offered to Taiwan. A package of measures was announced at the end of the fourth cross-strait economic forum, which brought together senior officials of the Communist Party and Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang. The global financial turmoil was the pretext, but at the heart of the agreement was drawing the mainland and the island closer. As welcome as the steps may be, though, some Taiwanese opposed to closer links between the two sides will be less enthusiastic than their counterparts here in accepting the deal. There is no denying that Taiwan's mainland-based companies are suffering from the downturn. The drying up of their European and North American markets has hit profitability hard, which is being starkly reflected in the Taiwanese stock exchange. An offer to such firms of 130 billion yuan (HK$148 billion) in support over three years, as well as tax breaks and allowing them to take part in the mainland's economic stimulus projects, among other measures, are to be applauded. The mainland is in a position to help because of its controlled markets offering a degree of protection against the global downturn. It should always be willing to assist the Chinese family in times of crisis, no matter what the political persuasions. Ties have warmed considerably since the Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou took over as president in May from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Shui-bian. The sides opened direct daily passenger flights, new shipping routes and postal links for the first time in six decades last Monday. Without doubt, the measures announced yesterday will boost relations. The issue of politics was even broached, with the head of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, Wang Yi , supporting a suggestion by Kuomintang vice-chairman Tseng Yung-chuan that the annual gathering should also include the island's pro-independence political opposition. The mainland's move is to be welcomed, for the eventual goal of reunification can only be achieved when Taiwanese society as a whole, not just Kuomintang followers, embraces it. With politics so much in the way of ties, trade has to be the driving force of better relations, and the financial meltdown has provided a golden opportunity for Beijing to play the economic card. Mr Ma's friendly stance has been an obvious boost, although there remains considerable opposition in Taiwan to his moving too close. But such efforts have to be taken with sensitivity in mind and at a measured pace. Just as with the 14-point package given to Hong Kong, there are suspicions that Beijing is trying to sway political opinion with generous economic gestures. It could go a considerable way towards dispelling such thinking by having fewer trade restrictions. It is in the mainland truly opening up to the rest of China with a genuine free-trade policy that the greatest benefits would lie.