Opposition supporters scuffle with police as they protest against the visit of China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday. Chen, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), is on a five-day visit to Taiwan to discuss cross-strait issues with his Taiwanese counterpart, Chiang Ping-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). Chen's arrival is the first high level visit to the island since it's split with the mainland during the 1949 civil war.(AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Taiwan, China make history with new pact

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China and Taiwan made economic history Tuesday with a bold agreement that allows planes and ships to travel directly across the Taiwan Strait — the place where many have feared they would fight their next battle.

Still the Asian rivals appear far from resolving the root causes of nearly six decades of hostilities and distrust. The pact was possible because negotiators set aside thorny political disputes and only focused on trade and economics.

The new deal allows passenger flights directly across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China. In the past, planes had to fly into Hong Kong airspace while traveling between the two sides. Cargo ships, which used to have to stop at the Japanese island of Okinawa northeast of Taiwan, will be allowed to sail directly to the other side and cut hundreds of miles out of each trip.

The deal is significant for businesses and drew applause from three chambers of commerce representing Japan, the U.S. and Europe. The groups said in a joint statement the restrictions on flights and shipping have kept Taiwan from fully participating in the global and Asian economies.

"Taiwan can only benefit from having greater interaction with one of the world's fastest growing markets," it said.

In the eyes of China's leaders, Taiwan is a Chinese province that must eventually unite with the mainland or be invaded by the mainland's massive military.

A conflict could quickly draw in the U.S., which has long warned China's government it may defend Taiwan — a major buyer of American weapons. Even as they talk to China, the Taiwanese have been loading up on more U.S. arms, including Apache helicopters and Patriot missiles.

China-Taiwan relations are so awkward and strained that Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, who signed the deal Tuesday, has yet to call Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou by his proper title: president. When they meet Thursday, Chen will likely just address him as "Mr. Ma."

Chen — the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Taiwan — is sticking to Beijing's policy of not formally recognizing the island's government.

Taiwan's top official for China policy, Lai Shin-yuan, urged critics to embrace the deal and stop obsessing about sensitive political issues.

"This is something people should support, instead of making an issue of how I am addressed by the Chinese side," Lai told reporters. "Our sovereignty has not been harmed during the meeting this time."

Most Taiwanese are not ready to unify with China and do not want Beijing meddling in their political affairs. Many favor independence, and China's refusal to recognize their government infuriates them. About 200 protesters scuffled with police Tuesday night outside a hotel where the Chinese envoy attended a banquet.

The Taiwanese president, who took office in May, has promised not to begin unification negotiations during his four-year term.

Some fear that closer ties with China — even if they only involve trade and economics — will sacrifice Taiwan's sovereignty by making it overly dependent on the mainland.

【2008/11/5 THE MORNING SUN】報紙原貌

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