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The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > Taiwan President's Ally to Carry Message to China

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > Taiwan President's Ally to Carry Message to China:May 1, 2005
Taiwan President's Ally to Carry Message to China

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Sunday, May 1 - President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan said Sunday morning that he had called another prominent Taiwanese politician, James Soong, on Saturday night and asked him to carry a message to China's leaders during Mr. Soong's visit to China beginning later this week.

The president's decision to open any kind of dialogue with mainland China, even by sending messages through an informal intermediary, is another hint of possibly warming relations across the Taiwan Strait.

President Chen provided only a broad outline of the message to reporters while flying to Guam on the first leg of a state visit to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the state-owned Central News Agency said here.

He said China should respect the sovereignty of the Republic of China - this country's legal name - and should understand the 10-point consensus on cross-Strait relations and other issues he reached Feb. 24 with Mr. Soong, the chairman of the smaller People First Party.

The People First Party ardently supports closer relations with Beijing, and Mr. Soong's broad political alliance in February surprised many here because the president's own Democratic Progressive Party leans toward greater independence.

The February consensus between the two parties' chairmen was somewhat vague on how to seek an understanding with the mainland, and the alliance was widely viewed at the time as a way to isolate the Nationalist Party, the main opposition party and also an advocate of closer relations with the mainland.

But President Chen's decision now to send a message raises the importance of a planned visit to the mainland beginning Thursday and lasting until May 12, with the last three days in Beijing, by Mr. Soong.

"James Soong understands the government's views and mine," Mr. Chen said, according to the Central News Agency.

A visit to Beijing by Lien Chan, the chairman of the Nationalists, seems to have increased public support here for improved relations with China, but may have also damaged the cooperation among political parties needed for an actual shift in policy.

Separate polls published by three Taiwanese newspapers on Saturday showed that 51 to 60 percent of the population supported a trip by Mr. Lien, who met President Hu Jintao of China in Beijing on Friday.

Interest in the trip has been so intense that Taiwanese television stations have even broadcast earnest discussions of the earrings and clothing that Mr. Lien's wife wore to the meeting, as though it were a royal wedding.

Joseph Wu, the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the cabinet-level agency here that handles relations with China, said late Saturday afternoon that the polls may have been tainted by methodological problems. The council hopes to finish its own broader, more in-depth poll by Friday.

Mr. Wu, who has been a strong critic of the Nationalists' efforts to conduct their own diplomacy while in the opposition, predicted that Mr. Lien's trip would have little long-term effect on attitudes toward China, a subject on which most people here already have strong opinions that seldom change.

Yet heavy media coverage of the trip may have produced at least some short-term public interest in working more closely with the mainland, he acknowledged.

Mr. Wu said before making any policy decisions, the government would wait until after Mr. Soong's trip.

President Hu's remarks during Mr. Lien's visit were little more than rhetoric that repeated or rephrased previous statements by Beijing officials, and the government here wants to see if Communist leaders make more concrete proposals during Mr. Soong's visit, Mr. Wu said.

"So far, what we see is only rhetoric," he added.

But Mr. Wu said twice in a telephone interview that it was possible that the government here might formulate an initiative of its own after Mr. Soong's return.

But Mr. Lien's effusive praise for mainland Chinese leaders while in Beijing, and his strong criticism of independence supporters in Taiwan, have infuriated independence advocates here, and they may limit Mr. Chen's flexibility, said Hsiao Bi-khim, a senior Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker.

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