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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Lien's China trip highlights tensions

By Francis Markus
BBC correspondent in Nanjing

Thousands of Chinese gather to watch as Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan visits the Sun Yat-sen tomb in Nanjing Wednesday, April 27, 2005.
Thousands came to see Mr Lien at the Sun Yat-sen tomb
Even under the shade of the pine forests that coat the flanks of Purple Mountain, it was a hot day in Nanjing.

But that did not seem to stop a crowd of hundreds of Chinese tourists from trying to get a glimpse of Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan and his delegation.

The Taiwanese were paying homage at the mausoleum to Sun Yat-sen, founding father of their Kuomintang Party and a man who was also revered by China's Communist Party as one of the creators of modern China.

Applause broke out when the Taiwanese were spotted as they left the tomb.

"It's good that he's here," said one young man in his 20s as he and his friends peered over the foliage.

"At least the Kuomintang are better than the Democratic Progressive Party and Chen Shui-bian," he added, referring to Taiwan's ruling party and its president.

China refuses to talk to Taiwan's president, because he does not accept Beijing's precondition for dialogue - acceptance of the One China Principle, which means that Taiwan is part of China.

Taiwan still calls itself the Republic of China, as distinct from Beijing's People's Republic of China.

Supporters of independence for the self-governing island would like to call it the Republic of Taiwan, but they know that would be seen as a declaration of formal independence, and would bring a military response from Beijing.

The Taiwanese president, despite his party's pro-independence leanings, has pledged he has no intention of taking such a step.

But even so, Lien Chan is here, not Chen Shui-bian.

The opposition leader's visit will be followed in a few days by that of James Soong, leader of the smaller People First Party (PFP), a Kuomintang (KMT) splinter group.

Improved links

Chinese scholars deny that the government is deliberately seeking to isolate Mr Chen.

A pro-Taiwan supporter displays a banner calling main opposition's Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan a "Betrayer" April 26, 2005, in Taoyuan's Chiang Kai-shek International Airport
Pro-independence Taiwanese are not happy about Mr Lien's visit

"Beijing's position is that we can have contact with all parties concerned, no matter what they are, provided they admit the One China Principle," said Zhuang Jianzhong, a professor at Shanghai's Jiaotong University.

Professor Zhuang acknowledged that the opposition leader's presence in China might increase tensions in Taiwan.

But he added: "I don't think it will cause permanent, serious consequences, because most of the people want to have stronger relations, especially economic relations with mainland China."

Nanjing residents, too, hope Mr Lien's visit will produce results.

"The biggest contribution this trip will make is to help improve trade and economic relations between the two sides," said a tourism services company employee outside the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum.

But Taiwanese government officials have warned Mr Lien's delegation that they are not empowered to sign any agreements on the island's behalf.

One of the issues that Lien Chan is bound to raise is the subject of direct transport links.

Mr Lien's delegation travelled to China via Hong Kong, changing planes in the former British colony, which added several hours to the journey from Taipei.

Taiwan continues to ban direct links, even though during this year's Lunar New Year holiday, thousands of Taiwanese living in China made the journey home on special non-stop charter flights.

The KMT has played a key role in pushing for such holiday charters. It has a large constituency among mainland-based Taiwanese business people.

Emotional trip

Mr Lien will meet some of these KMT supporters when he visits Shanghai on Sunday.

First, though, he will travel to Beijing for a visit which will include a meeting on Friday with President Hu Jintao. He will also see Jia Qinglin, a senior Politburo Standing Committee member with responsibility for policy on Taiwan.

The 68-year-old KMT leader and former Taiwanese vice president will also visit the western city of Xian, where he was born.

He is not a man who openly shows his feelings, but his trip will nevertheless be an emotional event.

On the tarmac at Nanjing airport shortly after his arrival on Tuesday, he referred to the more than half a century since the KMT administration was forced to flee the city.

"We have missed you," he said, addressing the people of Nanjing.

Whether local residents have missed the KMT is a more complex question.

"The Kuomintang were not bad; they built all this and planted all these trees," said a taxi driver near the Sun Yat-sen mausoleum.

Lien Chan with his wife Fang Yu as they visit the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, April 27
This will be an emotive trip for Mr Lien, who was born in China
Across the city, outside the low sombre structure of Nanjing's memorial to victims of Japan's 1937 massacre, Mrs Zhou, a quietly spoken woman of similar age to Mr Lien, recalled the Kuomintang's wartime leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

"What he did was wrong. You could say he betrayed the country," she said, describing his determination to stamp out communism as even greater than his urgency to resist Japan's forces.

But today's Kuomintang "is an entirely different party", she added. "They're keen to help work for China's reunification."

Mr Lien, if he were listening, would probably want to qualify that statement.

Compared to the Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, the KMT's stance is certainly more sympathetic towards the possibility of eventual reunification with China - but only once democratisation has taken much further hold in the communist mainland.

That may be one big difference with President Chen Shui-bian and his life-long espousal of the pro-independence ground in Taiwanese politics.

The other is that Mr Lien and the PFP's Mr Soong are in opposition.

So what their parties say and do now may undergo considerable transformation before Taiwan's next presidential and legislative elections in 2008.


SEE ALSO:
Lien pays homage to Chinese hero
27 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Lien Chan
26 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Press split over Lien's China trip
26 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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