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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
China invites Taiwan businessmen for talks
Taiwanese ship sailing to China
Taiwan businesses want direct trade with China
Taiwan and China are moving closer to opening negotiations which could end a 50-year ban on trade, transport and postal links between the two rivals.


Whether or not we become friends or get married, it's still too early to tell

Taiwanese official Jan Jyh-horng
Beijing has invited two Taiwanese business leaders to the mainland for talks following an announcement earlier this month by the island's President, Chen Shui-bian, that private groups could represent his government.

Taipei has said it is considering the invitation.

Taiwan has banned direct links with China since nationalist forces took refuge on the island at the end of the 1949 civil war, leaving the mainland under Communist control.

But correspondents say with trade ties growing stronger, there has been pressure on Taipei to open links with China.

Possible candidates

Wang Yung-ching, head of Formosa Plastics and Kao Chin-yen, chairman of food group Uni-President, were invited to China by Chen Yunlin, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said an official from the office.

Taiwan's top policymaker on China, Tsai Ing-wen, gave a cautious response to reporters, stressing that China "can't appoint people on our behalf".

Taiwan originally banned direct links between the two countries to protect the island from invasion by China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province.

But the BBC's Damian Grammaticas says it is now accepted that the ban does not so much give the island security as harm its economy.

Taiwanese airlines and shipping companies are hungry to do business with China and they would save costs by being able to travel directly to the Chinese mainland, instead of through transit ports such as Hong Kong.

Letting private companies negotiate the opening of transport links may allow Taiwan to skirt the political differences that have led to the breakdown of government-to-government talks.

Step forward

Jan Jyh-horng, an official with the Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation which deals with China-Taiwan relations told AP news agency that China's quick response to the Taiwanese president's suggestion was promising.

But he cautioned that the rivals still had many disputes to settle.

"Whether or not we become friends or get married, it's still too early to tell," he said.

See also:

17 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
18 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
20 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
18 Mar 00 | Taiwan Election
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