Houston Community News >> China Reaches Out to Taiwan Business Community

4/28/2007 BEIJING (Reuters) - China's president dangled the carrot of the country's booming economy at a forum on China-Taiwan business ties on Saturday, in Beijing's latest attempt to win hearts and minds in Taiwan.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told the roughly 500 delegates, including a former Taiwanese opposition leader, that the country offered boundless economic opportunities.

"At present, the mainland's economy is developing powerfully, which creates more space, more motivation and even more superior conditions for cross-strait economic cooperation," Hu said, with Lien Chan, honorary chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), standing beside him.

The Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Forum was discussing how to boost exchanges between China and Taiwan amid controversy this week over the 2008 Olympic torch route.

The need for direct flights across the Taiwan strait, which Taipei bans for security and political reasons, is a key agenda item of the event, although no members of the island's independence-leaning, ruling Democratic Progressive Party are attending.

China and Taiwan have been bitter rivals since Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war in 1949. China claims sovereignty over the island insisting it must eventually be returned to the fold, by force if necessary.

Pro-independence politicians in democratic Taiwan suspect China is trying to win the island over through commercial ties, though the Beijing forum, being held this weekend for the third time, has yet to yield any new Chinese government incentives.

Taiwan investors have poured up to $100 billion into China over the last two decades, lured by a common language and culture as well as low labor costs and close proximity to the world's fastest-growing major economy.

Lien, a twice-defeated Taiwan presidential candidate, said the two sides should put aside decades of confrontation and start talking.

"The mainland is today open to the entire world, but cross-strait relations, for reasons which everyone are familiar with, hesitate to move forward," he said.

Neither Hu nor Lien mentioned the flap over the Olympic torch.

China accused Taiwan of a "perfidious betrayal of trust" on Friday for reneging on an agreement to host a stop on next year's Beijing Olympic torch relay.

The relay schedule was unveiled by Beijing organizers on Thursday and included Taiwan as the stop before Hong Kong on the 137,000-km (85,000-mile) route.

Taiwan Olympic officials called China's linking them to Hong Kong an attempt to include the island in the domestic relay route and rejected the plan.

President Chen Shui-bian said on Friday Beijing should consider the torch route that Tokyo used in 1964, which means sending the flame to Taiwan from a country other than China and passing it on from Taiwan to yet another country, but not China or any of its territories.

The KMT hopes trade and tourism deals clinched at the Beijing forum will help the island's economy and its chances of winning parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next March.

(Contributed by Reuters)