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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 13:54 GMT
Taiwan-China relations 'unlikely to change'
Taiwanese flag
Beijing rejects Taiwan's de facto independence
It was only a short sea crossing, but there was hope that the historic voyage of three Taiwanese ships to China on Tuesday would symbolise much more.

Some Taiwanese hoped it would herald a new start to the rocky relationship between the two sides, which in the past, have pounded each other with mortar fire.

Chinese troops
China has repeatedly threatened Taiwan with force
Taiwanese Prime Minister Chang Chun-hsiung told his cabinet in a New Year message: "It is our sincere hope the trial links will eventually lead to the end of hostility in the Taiwan Straits."

But analysts say that the tension across straits is unlikely to decline significantly following the unprecedented voyage, which China gave a cool reception to.

Only when Taiwan heeds China's "one China" rhetoric and gives up any hint of independence would reconciliation occur, some analysts said.

The voyage was the first official crossing since Taiwan's separation from the mainland in 1949, at the end of a bitter civil war which saw Chairman Mao Tse-tung take power.

Democracy in Taiwan

The crossing was supposedly the moment Beijing had been anticipating for decades.

China's communist rulers have always seen the opening of direct trade and transport links with Taiwan as the first step towards full reunification.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian
Chen has toned down calls for independence
This was one reason why Taiwan has resisted opening direct links for so long.

But the BBC's Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says the situation has been radically altered in recent years by Taiwan's transition to democracy.

In last year's presidential election, Taiwan's voters made it very clear they did not want reunification with China.

The man they elected as president, Chen Shui-bian, is a long-time supporter of full independence for the island.

China's consternation

In Beijing, these developments have been met with consternation, as China's elderly rulers see their reunification dreams slipping away.

Jinmen officials
The historic journey was the first official crossing in more than 50 years
Their response has been to turn up the pressure: commit yourself to reunification, Taiwan has been told, or face the possibility of war.

Taiwan's new president, desperate to reduce tension, has made a string of peace overtures to Beijing.

All have been rebuffed.

But external factors may force the two old rivals to establish some direct links.

Both are candidates to join the World Trade Organisation this year.

If they do become members, they will be forced to eliminate barriers to trade between them, opening the way to what some experts say could be one of the richest trading relationships in the world.

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See also:

02 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
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