Taiwan moves closer to setting up China liaison office

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's cabinet on Thursday approved regulations governing the opening of a China liaison office on the island, a priority in efforts to normalise relations with its former enemy.

The draft rules will be submitted to parliament this month, said officials from the Mainland Affairs Council which handles cross-strait policy.

Despite likely objections from the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party and the smaller Taiwan Solidarity Union, the regulations are likely to be passed by the legislature which is controlled by the China-friendly Kuomintang party.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, council chairman Wang Yu-chi said the issue of exchanging offices between Taiwan's quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation and its Chinese counterpart will top the agenda in the next two years.

He said he is optimistic the offices can open before the end of next year.

Negotiators from the two sides agreed to push for the offices during a meeting last month.

Chang Hsien-yao, vice chairman of the council, told reporters on Thursday that efforts would be made to authorise the offices to issue travel documents to people from the two sides.

The idea of exchanging liaison offices was mooted in 2008 after the Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou won the presidency on a platform of strengthening trade and tourism links.

Since then the island and its giant neighbour have opened up direct flights and forged 18 agreements covering areas ranging from trade to banking and crime-fighting.

Mr Ma was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and final four-year term.

Despite the rapprochement China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting unification, by force if necessary, even though the island has ruled itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.

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