Taiwan's former vice-president to meet new China leader

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwan politician known for making a landmark 2005 visit to China flew to Beijing on Sunday to meet China's Communist Party chief Xi Jinping in the highest level cross-strait meeting since Mr Xi took office, officials said.

Former vice-president Lien Chan led a 30-strong delegation of politicians and business leaders to China's capital where he is scheduled to meet Mr Xi on Monday.

Mr Lien said he will use the trip to meet "new and old friends" including Mr Xi, who is due to formally become China's president in March in a choreographed leadership change, and outgoing President Hu Jintao.

"Cross-strait ties took a twist separately in 2005 and 2008 and there's no denying that since then the ties have improved markedly," Mr Lien told reporters ahead of his departure, mindful of his ice-breaking 2005 trip as chief of the island's nationalist Kuomintang party.

Taiwan and China resumed dialogue in 2008 after splitting in 1949 at the end of a civil war, leading to the resumption of direct flights and the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement trade pact.

"But there's still room for development of the ties," Mr Lien said, without going into details.

Despite the fast-warming relationship, the former bitter rivals technically remain at war, with the People's Liberation Army aiming more than 1,600 ballistic and cruise missiles at the island.

Beijing claims the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, even though Taiwan has ruled itself for more than six decades.

Ties with China have improved markedly since the Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform. He was re-elected in 2012 for a final four-year term.

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