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Beijing Ready to Talk with Taipei

Beijing said Wednesday the mainland is ready to start talks on the establishment of the "three links" across the Straits, as long as Taipei agrees not to internationalize these links.

"If the Taiwan authorities do have the sincerity... we welcome authorized civil groups or industrial associations from the Taiwanese side at any time to discuss the realization of three links," said Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

Li made the remarks at a regular news conference, responding to Taipei's call for pragmatic dialogue to open up trade, transport and postal services across the Straits, dubbed the "three links."

Despite the mainland's efforts to push for the opening of the services, Taipei has yet to lift its decades-old ban.

The "mainland affairs office," the island's top government body in charge of cross-Straits policy, said recently the two sides can jump-start talks on putting the "three links" into place if the mainland maintains a pledge made by former Vice-Premier Qian Qichen.

Between January 2001 and July 2002, Qian put forward a series of flexible suggestions as a major effort to push ahead with the "three links." The move failed to receive positive response from Taipei.

The "mainland affairs office" is now apparently trying to gain political advantages in talks on the "three links" by bringing up Qian's suggestions again.

The former vice-premier once suggested that the political meaning of "one China" be left out when discussing business and technical matters since the three cross-Straits links are purely economic affairs.

Beijing takes the one-China principle that both Taiwan and the mainland are part of China as a precondition for any cross-Straits talks although Taipei has refused to embrace the principle.

Li, however, said the move is only based on the condition that the "three links" are taken as domestic affairs within one country.

A key point of Qian's speeches was the "three links" should be considered cross-Straits affairs as an internal matter among Chinese on both sides of the Straits, said Li.

Qian also suggested that future sea and air routes across the Taiwan Straits should be termed as cross-Straits routes and should not be defined as state-to-state ones.

"Only on such a precondition can the political meaning of one China be left out during discussions about business and technical matters," Li stressed.

He accused Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian of putting the establishment of the "three links" into his splittist framework of "one country at each side."

Chen has been insisting that foreign ships operate shipping routes across the Taiwan Straits in a bid to internationalize the "three links."

At the news briefing, Li also urged Taipei to fully open the island to mainland tourists because mainland residents living and working on the mainland are still excluded from visiting Taiwan.

"But the visits to Taiwan by mainland tourists must be taken as domestic tourism business," he said.

Taipei allows only mainlanders living, studying, working or traveling overseas to visit the island in tour groups. Beijing opened fully to Taiwan tourists as early as 1987.

Taiwan travelers paid more than 2.73 million visits to the mainland last year. In contrast, only less than 30,000 people from the mainland visited Taiwan last year due to Taipei's restrictions.

(China Daily July 1, 2004)

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