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China embraces former Taiwan premier

Siew visits the Great Wall
Vincent Siew visits the Great Wall of China  

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No political agenda

One China policy reaffirmed

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BEIJING, China -- China has rolled out the red carpet for a former Taiwan Nationalist premier in another apparent move to sideline the island's President Chen Shui-bian.

Vincent Siew, premier of Taiwan's Nationalist government which lost power last May, has met Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, the mainland's top Taiwan policy official, for talks on economic and trade relations.

Siew insists he is not representing the government or any political party on Taiwan, the democratic island Beijing considers a breakaway province that must be re-united with the mainland, by force if necessary.

He has been in China since Tuesday meeting officials, speaking at conferences and visiting tourist sites on a trip he says is designed to raise support for a regional common market.

"I'm here to look, to listen and to talk," said. "It is very significant for me to have such communications.

"Even though I have left government, I am very concerned with the development of cross-Strait relations."

Nevertheless, Siew is the second vice-chairman of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, to visit China in less than six months.

By giving Siew access to top government officials, Beijing hoped to sideline Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which advocates Taiwan independence, analysts said.

"It's symbolic," said one Western diplomat. "The mainland is saying we're open for business again, we're going to protect Taiwanese business, we want to have forward momentum on this but without having to do it officially."

"In the mainland's eyes, it's signaling to the rational and sensible people in Taiwan that dialogue is possible if you turn away from the great Satan that is Chen Shui-bian," said the diplomat.

The former premier stayed at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse, where visiting foreign dignitaries are housed, and also met Chen Yunlin, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, China's cabinet.

Siew's visit was designed to reassure Taiwan businessmen who have poured US$50 billion into China since rapprochement began in the late 1980s, analysts said.

No political agenda

Taipei and Beijing set up semi-official bodies in the early 1990s to resolve trade and other disputes, but Beijing angrily froze dialogue in July 1999 after then Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui redefined bilateral ties as "special state to state."

Chan Hou-sheng, a National Taiwan University professor accompanying Siew, said there was no political agenda for the talks with Qian.

"Mr. Siew is not representing the government or a political party," he said. "They will mainly focus on trade and economic relations. I don't think they will talk about politics."

Siew has said his common market idea had Chen's support but he would not relay any messages from the Taiwan president.

A Taiwan local newspaper reported Siew said dealing with cross-straits relations is like climbing the Great Wall in China, one has to be "patient, determined and wise".

Siew will continue his visit in Shanghai on Saturday.

One China policy reaffirmed

Official ties with Taipei have stalled over Beijing's demand that President Chen recognize the "one China" principle, which he is reluctant to do.

Relations suffered a further setback when the U.S. offered Taiwan the biggest package of arms in a decade last month and U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to help defend the island from a mainland attack.

Qian was likely to repeat Beijing's demand that Taipei accept the "one China" principle but he could also reaffirm a more flexible approach to Taiwan that he advocated earlier this year.

"It fits in with what Beijing's been doing, being nice to everyone but the DPP," said another diplomat.

"But Qian might want to reinforce the idea that the softer approach is still alive despite what's happened with the arms sales," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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