Chen sends message to Beijing

Taipei (AsiaNews) - Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has sent a message to Beijing in an attempt to start a dialogue with the leaders of the People's Republic.

James Soong, president of the opposition People First Party, was asked to relay the message when he starts his eight-day visit to the mainland on May 5.

The content of the message was not disclosed but it was reported to represent "the stance of the Taiwan people" vis-à-vis the People's Republic.

President Chen made the request before leaving for the Marshall Islands, one of the few countries with diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Soong's trip to Beijing comes on the heels of the visit by Lien Chan, president of the opposition Kuomintang party.

President Chen is concerned that these visits might weaken his government's position and open the way to contacts between parties and not governments.

In fact, Beijing is using Lien's visit to launch a major publicity operation, offering economic cooperation and easing of tensions after it adopted an anti-secession law that authorises the use of force should Taiwan declare its independence.

Lien Chan's visit was also personal. In addition to the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum in Nanjing, he visited his grandmother's tomb in Xian. His trip ends today in Shanghai.

In his meetings with mainland leaders he was able to get duties lifted on imports of Taiwanese agricultural products and a pledge by Beijing to remove the 600 missiles aimed at the island if Taiwan agrees to join the World Health Organisation under the name of "Taiwan, China" (and not as an independent 'Republic of China')

Mainland China's charm offensive is intended to weaken pro-independence sentiments on the island and undermine President Chen Shui-bian's position which is close to pro-independence groups.

Mr Chen, who first criticised his adversaries' visits to mainland China, is now trying to veer the debate back to a government-to-government level.

Before leaving for the Marshall Islands, he said: "No matter which Taiwanese party or individuals China chooses to talk to, it ultimately has to approach the leader elected by the Taiwanese people and the government of Taiwan. [This is] the right channel to open political dialogue and normalise bilateral relations".