Handshake between Lien Chan and Hu Jintao

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Lien Chan, leader of the Kuomintang and Taiwan's main opposition party, met today Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist party. The historic meeting took place in the Great Hall of People in a very formal atmosphere full of long handshakes and smiles with hundreds of photojournalists and TV networks immortalising the return of the Kuomintang to mainland China after 60 years of hostilities. The meeting, however, is likely to widen the gap between Beijing and Taipei.

In March of this year, President Hu Jintao had China adopt anti-secession law that authorises the use of military force should Taiwan proclaim its independence.

The prominence Chinese media have given to the event shows Beijing's desire to weaken the leadership of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who is close to the island's pro-independence movements.

For Lien the visits provides the opportunity to rebuild his electoral fortunes battered in recent years. He gave Hu Jintao some boxes of bananas, papaya, pineapple and mango hoping to improve Taiwan's agricultural exports and gain votes among the island's growers who are well-known for the pro-democracy views.

In recent months, Europe, the United States and Japan have expressed concern over cross-strait tensions provoking the ire of Beijing for whom Taiwan is an internal matter.

Lien's visit begins a new chapter in the Taiwan question, turning an issue between governments to one between parties. This way it is more a local than an international matter.

In the morning, Lien visited Beijing University where he himself had studied. His meeting with students and teachers was broadcast live on national TV.

He spoke of reconciliation but said that for Taiwan and China the status quo is better, each side with its own separate government. This way, China can pursue its political reforms and Taiwan develop its sentiment of unity with China.

In Taiwan Lien's visit has been met by many objections, with many people seeing it as treason and a sell-out to the dictatorship in Beijing.

In Taiwan, Chen Chin-jun, a member of the president's ruling Democratic Progressive Party expressed sadness over Lien' statements.

"We are very upset," he said. "Lien has gone to an enemy country and expresses sentiments that are not those of the majority of Taiwanese who want Taiwan to be an independent and sovereign nation."