Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 11:54 UK

China, Taiwan in direct exchange

Composite image: Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou (L) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (R)
The presidents have not been involved in previous Taiwan-China contacts

The leaders of China and Taiwan have exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years.

Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory telegram to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou after his Sunday election to head of the ruling party.

Mr Ma responded, suggesting that they had "put aside disputes", a statement from Mr Ma's KMT party said.

Mr Ma was elected president last year on pledges to improve ties. The two sides split in 1949 amid civil war.

'Peaceful development'

Taiwan's Nationalist Party (KMT) elected Mr Ma as its chairman on Sunday, giving him more control of the island's legislative agenda as well as its China policy.

"I hope our two parties can continue to promote peaceful cross-Strait development, deepen mutual trust, bring good news to compatriots on both sides and create a revival of the great Chinese race," said Mr Hu's message.

As well as being China's president, Mr Hu is also head of the country's Communist Party.

Mr Ma said on Sunday that he had been expecting Mr Hu's telegram because he had received one from him when he was last elected KMT chairman, in 2005. He held the post for two years.

Neither man used their presidential titles in their messages; China does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country and so does not recognise its presidency.

China and Taiwan have signed trade and travel deals recently, but contacts have always taken place at a lower level than that of president, and have avoided political issues.

The improved ties have led to speculation that the two leaders may hold a summit, a prospect Mr Ma has downplayed in the face of the island's anti-China opposition.

Although ties have improved in the past year, Beijing has not put aside its territorial claim to Taiwan, insisting the island is a breakaway province of China.

Taiwan is self-governing, but holds no seat at the UN and is recognised by only about two dozen states - most of them small Caribbean and Pacific nations.

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