Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Official: Taiwan plans military contact with China

Official: Taiwan plans military contact with China
The Associated Press
Published: October 29, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Taiwan is considering the first-ever contacts between its military and the People's Liberation Army of mainland China but has set no timetable for such meetings, a senior Taiwanese defense official said Wednesday.

Defense ministry spokeswoman Lisa Chi's comments were a step further in Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's efforts to improve long-strained ties with rival China, as Taiwan readies the red carpet for the arrival of a senior Chinese envoy next week.

Chi told The Associated Press that the ministry would start with bilateral contacts between retired and junior military officers first, and "then move on to high-level meetings between senior officials."

"No timetable has been set for the military exchange," Chi said. "It will come after the government holds discussions on economic and political issues with China."

TV news reports showed Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min telling local reporters on Tuesday that meetings between senior officials from the two sides would help reduce misunderstandings and the possibility of either side resorting to force.

President Ma Ying-jeou said earlier this year that he wants to push for discussions with China on economic issues first, and then proceed to tackle thorny diplomatic and security issues.

He said eventually he wants to sign a formal peace treaty with Beijing, though without specifying what it might contain.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to claim the island as part of its territory, and threatens to attack if Taiwan moves to formalize its independence.

Since Ma took office on May 20, he has made efforts to overturn his predecessor's fierce anti-China platform and seek better ties with the mainland.

Within a month of his inauguration, he sent a delegation to Beijing to resume bilateral talks after a hiatus of almost ten years. Through the talks, Ma was able to facilitate the beginning of regular weekend charter flights across the 100-mile-(160-kilometer-)wide Taiwan Strait, and secure an increasing number of mainland tourists to visit.

Ma will also see the arrival of Chairman Chen Yunlin of China's semiofficial Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, the most senior Chinese envoy yet to visit the island since the 1949 split, next week.

Chen will be holding talks with his Taiwanese counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, head of the Straits Exchange Foundation. Taiwanese officials have said the talks will focus only on economic issues including the expansion of weekend charter flights to weekday service.

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