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China official meets Taiwan president amid protests
Thu Nov 6, 2008 12:09am EST
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By Ralph Jennings
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's president met briefly on Thursday with a Chinese official in one of the highest-level contacts between the two sides since the Chinese civil war, while protesters clashed with riot police outside.
President Ma Ying-jeou met China's top Taiwan affairs negotiator, Chen Yunlin, who has already signed agreements opening up trade and transport between the two sides that in past years have edged to the brink of war.
"What cannot be denied is that between the two sides some differences and challenges still exist, especially on the issues of Taiwan's security and international space," Ma said at the five-minute meeting.
According to Taipei, China has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island just across the Taiwan Strait, one the world's most dangerous flashpoints.
Beijing, with about 170 diplomatic allies compared to Taiwan's 23, also bars the island from international organizations such as the United Nations, which requires statehood as a precondition for membership.
Communist China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949 and has vowed to bring the island of 23 million people under its rule, by force if necessary.
Ma's predecessor advocated formal independence from China, outraging Beijing and freezing high-level contacts.
Ma told Chen he wanted to see more high-level exchanges and said the two sides should not "mutually deny" each other's existence.
He shook hands with Chen and gave him a vase in exchange for a scroll with a horse painting. "Ma," in Chinese, means horse.
Chen's reply to Ma was inaudible to the audience, but local media had speculated on whether Chen would address Ma as president. As China claims Taiwan as its own, it does not recognize Taiwan's leader as a head of state.
"The meeting is highly symbolic, mainly to show a parity between the two sides," said Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at National Cheng Chi University in Taipei. "The protests can't have any effect on it."
Ma is under pressure at home to be politically tough on China while improving the island's sagging economy by getting a piece of the other side's booming markets.
Negotiators from Taiwan and China signed a series of deals on Tuesday expanding daily direct flights and agreeing new air routes, direct cargo shipments and direct postal services.
But protesters have been camping out in the streets since Chen arrived on Monday, accusing Ma of selling out.
Late on Wednesday, about 1,000 people, many of whom want Taiwan to declare formal independence from China, mobbed a Taipei hotel where Chen had attended a banquet. They clashed with hundreds of police after a seven-hour standoff. Continued...
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