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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 09:51 GMT
Taiwan welcomes China overture
Military police in Taipei on Taiwan's national day, 10 October 2001
China considers Taiwan a renegade province

By the BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China's official media has described an apparent new overture to Taiwan by China's deputy prime minister as a golden opportunity which should not be missed.

The official People's Daily said the comments by Qian Qichen, China's top policy maker on Taiwan, provided a new chance to resume political dialogue between Beijing and Taipei.

The People's Republic of China has started to understand Taiwan's political situation

Taiwan ruling party chairman
Mr Qian, for the first time, said China believed most members of Taiwan's ruling DPP party were not independence supporters and would be welcome in the mainland.

There has been a broadly positive reaction in Taiwan.

It has been many years since such positive words echoed across the Taiwan Straits.

China 'will listen'

Mr Qian said Beijing differentiated between what he called a few die-hard supporters of Taiwan independence, and the majority of members of the island's Democratic Progressive Party or DPP.

These people, he said, would be welcome to visit the mainland in what he called an appropriate capacity - and he added China would listen to their opinions.

President Shui-bian announces a new prime minister on 21 January
China's attitude to President Shui-bian remains unclear
The statement was vague - it is not clear for example whether President Chen Shui-bian himself is seen as a die hard advocate of independence.

But the comments are China's first friendly public overture to the traditionally pro-independence DPP - which stunned Beijing when Mr Chen won Taiwan's elections two years ago.

DPP Chairman Frank Hsieh described the move as a gesture of goodwill; but he said Taiwan would have to study the details.

Some in Taiwan see the move as a ploy to divide the DPP; the party has already split in recent years between supporters of Taiwan's formal independence from China, and those, like President Chen, who have vowed not to declare independence unless China attacks the island.

But Taiwanese leaders said China's move suggested it had begun to understand the political situation in Taiwan - where the Nationalist party, which ruled the island for half a century, lost control of parliament for the first time last month.

Still, major obstacles to full political talks remain - China again reiterated its demand that Taiwan must accept the "one country two systems" formula, which Mr Chen has already rejected, if dialogue is to go ahead.

And Beijing remains suspicious of moves such as President Chen's recent decision to add the words Taiwan to the passports used by the island's citizens.

Nevertheless, analysts said China's comments may reflect relief that President Chen has not only not declared independence - but has also relaxed restrictions on trade between Taiwan and the mainland.

See also:

13 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan passport change angers China
31 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan logo change challenges China
18 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan approves travel to China
03 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan tells China to respect election
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