Chinese Delegation Begins Historic
Five-Day Visit to Taiwan

(VOA) A Chinese delegation has begun a five-day visit to Taiwan aimed at boosting economic ties between the two longtime rivals.

Chen Yunlin, who heads China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, arrived in Taipei Monday and is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the island since the two sides split during a civil war in 1949.

Chen and his 60-member delegation is expected to focus on finding ways to cooperate in fighting the global financial crisis, and opening cargo shipping links. They also will discuss expanding direct passenger and cargo flights.

Chen says economic talks are crucial to building trust between the two sides.

Although many in Taiwan welcome the warming of relations with China, some fear Beijing may use the increased ties to exert more political influence over the island.

Pro-independence supporters and other activists have already begun holding rallies to protest Chen’s visit. Members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party plan large demonstrations throughout Chen’s stay.

Last month, Taiwanese pro-independence protesters attacked another Chinese envoy who was visiting the island to attend an academic seminar. The official later cut short his visit.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has urged pro-independence advocates to keep any protests legal and peaceful.

Mr. Ma has said he will meet the delegation in his official capacity as the island’s president. Unlike his DPP predecessor, President Chen Shui-bian, Mr. Ma has taken a softer approach toward improving ties with China, focusing on economic relations and side-stepping the more difficult political issue of sovereignty.

China claims the self-ruled island is part of its territory and has threatened to attack Taiwan if it refuses to unify and seeks formal independence. Taiwan and China do not have formal ties, but communicate with one another through semi-official agencies.

During his visit this week, Chen will hold talks with his counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, the chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. He will leave Taiwan on Friday.