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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China responds with aid

The Chinese Red Cross has promised aid for the victims

Chinese President Jiang Zemin has offered sympathy and assistance for Taiwan's "agony" after Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

Quake in Taiwan
The quake struck at a time of high political tension between China and the country it regards as a renegade province.

Mr Jiang extended his condolences to the victims, saying compatriots on the two sides of the Taiwan strait were "as closely linked as flesh and blood".

BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Taipei: "Public relations battle across the Taiwan straits"
"The catastrophe and agony of our Taiwan compatriots affect the hearts of all Chinese," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman quoted Jiang as saying.

"We are willing to provide all possible assistance to reduce losses from the earthquake disaster."

China's Red Cross said it had offered its Taiwan counterpart $100,000 in cash and relief goods worth 500,000 yuan ($60,000).

There was no immediate response from the island's government.

Beijing's anger'

It remains to be seen whether the tragedy will inspire the same kind of rapprochement that "earthquake diplomacy" brought between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of the Turkish tremor last month.

[ image: Jiang:
Jiang: "Blood ties"
Greece unblocked European aid for Turkey and for the first time accepted the idea of Ankara joining the EU.

Tension between the two countries rose during the summer after Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui called for relations between Taiwan and China to be conducted on a state-to-state basis.

As recently as 10 September, Beijing announced that it had held military exercises, involving warships and thousands of soldiers, on the mainland opposite Taiwan.

[ image: China says it will use force to prevent Taiwanese independence]
China says it will use force to prevent Taiwanese independence
Chinese officials say the exercises were a warning to Taiwan not to pursue what Beijing sees as steps towards formal independence.

Over the years relations between the two governments have been frosty at best and on a number of occasions have threatened to boil over into all-out war.

Beijing insists that Taiwan cannot be allowed to achieve full independence and says it will use force if necessary to prevent it from doing so.

Cold war

For years after the 1949 Communist takeover in mainland China and the retreat of Kuomintang forces to the island of Taiwan, Beijing and Taipei maintained their own cold war - rarely even acknowledging the other's existence.

[ image: Historic handshake: both sides agree it is important to keep talking]
Historic handshake: both sides agree it is important to keep talking
Talks on possible reunification eventually began in 1993, but they were broken off by China two years later, angry at Taiwan's apparent attempts to forge an independent international profile.

Taiwan maintains a ban on direct investment in the mainland, but this has not stopped upwards of $13bn of Taiwanese money flowing into China via companies in Hong Kong.

Slowly both sides have shown a willingness to talk on practical issues that drive them together, particularly on economic and trade links.

Beijing wants Taiwan to accept reunification on much the same terms as Hong Kong - the so-called "one country, two systems" formula.

Taiwan, however, has said it will only consider unification if the mainland becomes more democratic.

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