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China calls for military exchanges with Taiwan

China calls for military exchanges with Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao raised the possibility of military exchanges with longtime rival Taiwan in an address Wednesday that emphasized Beijing's determination to peacefully unite with the self-governing island.
While such exchanges have been mooted in the past, Hu's inclusion of the proposal in his nationally televised speech raised its profile significantly.
"The two sides can engage in ... contacts and communications on military issues when appropriate, and discussions on building a trust mechanism for military safety," he said.
While Hu offered no details, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it had already drawn up plans for military-to-military exchanges, advance notification of military drills, and public announcements of military activities in or above the Taiwan Strait that divides the sides.
"We will carry out our plans according to the (Taiwanese) administration's directive," ministry spokeswoman Lisa Chi said.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 during a civil war, but Beijing considers the self-governed island a part of its territory and is determined to get it back, by force if necessary.
Beijing has in past years staged military exercises and lobbed missiles into the strait in an attempt to intimidate Taiwanese voters. Hu has shifted increasingly to trade and diplomacy in his more than five years in power, while maintaining double-digit annual percentage increases in the budget for the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army.
Hu's address commemorated the 30th anniversary of former communist leader Deng Xiaoping's announcement of Beijing's intentions to use peaceful means rather than force to unite with Taiwan.
Trade and civil exchanges have grown steadily since then, with Taiwanese investing an estimated $150 billion on the mainland and hundreds of thousands of islanders living and working in China.
While Hu reiterated Beijing's firm opposition to formal independence for the island _ receiving heavy applause in response _ he made no mention of China's chief means of blocking that: the threat of armed invasion.
"We call on both sides to negotiate on ending hostilities and reaching a peace agreement on the principle of one China," Hu said, referring to China's insistence that Taiwan accept it is a part of Chinese territory.
Relations between the rivals have improved greatly since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, a politician from the Beijing-friendly Nationalist Party, took power in May.
Earlier this year, the two sides agreed to begin direct air and shipping services across the Taiwan Strait, ending a nearly six-decade ban on regular links. Regular direct flights resumed Dec. 15.
Political exchanges have grown more slowly. China continues to refuse to recognize Taiwan's government and blocks the island's participation in the United Nations and other multinational organizations.
Ma has made participation in international organizations a key goal of his presidency, and has openly pushed to join the U.N.'s World Health Assembly.
Hu acknowledged Taiwan's desire for a more formal presence in international affairs and said Beijing would be willing to negotiate with the island on what sort of role it might play.
"The issue of Taiwan's involvement in events held by international organizations could be reasonably arranged through pragmatic negotiations under the condition of not causing 'two Chinas' or 'one China and one Taiwan,'" Hu said.
Hu's address contained little that was new, but it's friendly tone appeared to be well received by the government in Taipei.
"There has been tangible improvement in cross-strait relations, and the two sides should continue down this path," said a statement from the Mainland Affairs Council, the Cabinet-level agency in charge of implementing Taiwan's China policy.
Beijing should recognize Taiwan's "wish and need" to be part of the international community, the statement said.
While most Taiwanese strongly desire better relations with the mainland, few support political unification between the two. The island's government has long sought to skirt issues of sovereignty in favor of reaching agreements on investment, transport links, and other more mundane matters.
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Associated Press writer Debby Wu in Taipei contributed to this story.


Updated : 2021-06-15 14:55 GMT+08:00