Taiwan ruling party chief vows 'open and transparent' China visit

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's ruling party chairman on Friday pledged to conduct his upcoming visit to China in an "open and transparent" fashion, amid growing public unease over mainland influence.

Eric Chu is set to leave for Shanghai on Saturday to attend an annual trade forum and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, in what will be the first visit to the mainland by a Kuomintang (KMT) party chief since 2008.

"There won't be any black-box or back-room (negotiations) in the process. We will use open and transparent means to let everybody face cross-strait ties and the KMT's exchanges with mainland China with a positive attitude," Chu told reporters.

Chu succeeded embattled President Ma Ying-jeou as ruling party chairman in January. Ma has overseen a rapprochement with China since he took office in 2008 on a platform of promoting trade and tourism between the two sides.

But public sentiment has turned against the Beijing-friendly approach as voters say trade deals have been agreed in secret and not benefited ordinary Taiwanese.

Chu acknowledged the discontent, saying he will discuss issues of public concern during his meeting with Xi, including fears that "the fruits of cross-strait exchanges and peace are not being shared equally".

In March last year, around 200 students occupied parliament for more than three weeks to demonstrate against a controversial services trade pact, while thousands rallied in support of what became known as the "Sunflower Movement".

The KMT suffered its worst-ever showing in local polls in November - seen as a barometer for presidential elections in 2016 - with its Beijing-friendly policy blamed for alienating voters.

Wu Po-hsiung was the last KMT chairman to visit the mainland, in 2008. President Ma was also party chairman from 2009-2014, but despite the improved ties he never travelled to the mainland.

In 2005 Lien Chan made the first trip to the mainland by a KMT chief since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949 - a visit that paved the way for fast-improving relations during Ma's presidency.