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Page last updated at 01:50 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Top Chinese envoy in Taiwan talks

Chen Yunlin, left, Chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats) shakes hands with Wang Yi , the Director of China's National Taiwan Affairs Office
Chen Yunlin's visit is being seen as an important step forward

China's top official for handling relations with Taiwan has begun talks with Taiwanese officials aimed at broadening bilateral trade ties.

Chen Yunlin, who is on a five-day visit to Taiwan, is expected to sign economic and transport agreements.

New Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has promised to end decades of political rivalry with Beijing.

Earlier, police dispersed small groups of Taiwanese pro-independence protesters around the capital.

Mr Chen is head of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats).

He will hold talks and sign agreements on direct shipping and air cargo links, food safety and a postal service with Chiang Pin-kun, head of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

The two organisations manage ties between China and Taiwan, because there have been no formal links since the civil war ended in 1949.

Growing warmth

Chen Yunlin's visit is being seen as a high point in previously strained relations between Beijing and Taipei, according to the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei.

Taiwan rules itself and has secured diplomatic recognition from a handful of states, but China regards it as a breakaway province.

It has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and the defeated Kuomintang fled to Taiwan.

KEY TOPICS UNDER DISCUSSION
Direct flights and shipping
Postal services
Food safety, after various scares in mainland China
Financial co-operation, in the wake of the global crisis

The two sides held the first meeting in a decade in June this year, in Beijing.

"The hard ice between the two sides has already been shattered, the road has already been opened," said Wang Yi, head of the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, at Chen's official send-off.

"This will go down as a great event in the history of relations across the [Taiwan] Straits," he said.

Since President Ma took power in Taiwan in May, a series of trade and tourism deals have been reached with the mainland, including permission for up to 3,000 mainlanders to visit Taiwan every day.

However, Mr Ma's overtures have sparked fierce protests in Taiwan, including accusations that he is "selling out" to the mainland.

"If Ma's government keeps talking like this to China, it definitely has political implications," said Cheng Wen-tsang, spokesman for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which favours formal independence from China.

Protests

Pro-independence groups staged small protests around Taipei to coincide with Mr Chen's visit, waving flags and banners, and even cash rewards for protesters who hit Mr Chen with eggs.

Middle-school teacher Sunson Lin, told the BBC: "We can talk about anything with China, but first it must recognise that Taiwan is a sovereign country."

Thousands of police were deployed to ensure Mr Chen's safety, after his deputy Zhang Mingqing was jostled and knocked to the ground by protesters during a visit to Taiwan in October.


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