Taiwan Opposition Head, Beijing Pledge Unity

Taiwan's opposition leader and Chinese President Hu Jintao (search) promised on Friday to work together to end hostilities between Taipei (search) and Beijing, during the highest-level meeting between the two sides since they fought a civil war six decades ago.

The Taiwanese government criticized the talks, saying they would do nothing to improve frosty relations.

In a ceremony televised live in China and Taiwan, Hu and Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan smiled and shook hands in the Great Hall of the People (search), the seat of China's legislature in central Beijing.

Beijing and Taipei should focus on "peace, stability and development for the future," Hu told Lien.

Lien responded: "We absolutely should avoid confrontation and collisions. What we want is conciliation. We want dialogue."

Lien's visit is the first by a Nationalist leader since the party, which once ruled all of China, fled the mainland following its defeat by the communists in 1949. The last meeting between the leaders of the nationalist Kuomintang and Communist parties was in 1945, when dictator Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong held talks in an attempt to create a national unity government. They failed, and after four years of war, the defeated Kuomintang fled to Taiwan.

The lavish welcome given to him was part of Chinese efforts to isolate Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, whose party favors formal independence for Taiwan -- a step that Beijing says it would go to war to stop.

Lien favors unification and Beijing appeared to be trying to encourage flagging pro-unification sentiment in Taiwan amid a campaign by Chen to promote a notion of the island as a distinct nation. Chen's election in 2000 put an end to decades of Nationalist rule in Taiwan.

Lien said he hoped his visit would help ease tensions. But the Taiwanese government said nothing had changed, noting that he had failed to persuade China to recognize the island's sovereignty.

Lien "also did not persuade the Chinese communists to reduce their missile threat or their hostility toward Taiwan," a statement said in reference to the estimated 600-700 ballistic missiles positioned along the Chinese coast facing Taiwan.

Taiwan is a major potential flashpoint in Asia. Though the United States has no official ties with Taiwan, it is the island's main arms supplier and could be drawn into any conflict.

China also has been building ties with other parties in Taiwan that oppose formal independence.

Hu said Lien's trip "has already injected new vitality" into relations between Beijing and Taipei, which have no official ties despite surging trade.

"We should show the world that Chinese from both sides of the Taiwan Strait have the ability and the wisdom to resolve our contradictions and problems ... and to promote the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," Hu said.

After emerging from nearly two hours of closed-door talks, they issued a joint statement promising to work together to try to end hostilities.

Lien said that commitment was just a suggestion from his party, which doesn't control Taiwan's government.

"Frankly, whether this can be done depends on whether the governing party will take responsibility," he said at a news conference. "The Nationalist Party as an opposition party can only put it forward as a suggestion."

The statement also promised to promote Taiwan's participation in international bodies.

Beijing usually tries to block Taiwan's effort to join such bodies as the United Nations. It wasn't clear whether China was dropping its opposition to Taiwan's membership as a sovereign government or would insist the island be treated as part of the communist mainland.

Earlier Friday, Lien called for the two sides to "build a bridge to unite our people."

"We can't stay in the past forever," he said in a speech to students at the elite Peking University.

Lien said recent Chinese reforms, including nonpartisan elections to village-level posts, are closing the political gap between the communist mainland and democratic Taiwan.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have escalated since March, when Beijing enacted an anti-secession law authorizing military action if Taipei moves toward formal independence.

Lien appealed to both governments to "maintain the status quo" -- a reference to the unspoken deal under which Beijing refrains from attacking so long as Taiwan doesn't declare formal independence.

Taiwan barred contact with the mainland for decades, but has eased those limits since the early 1990s. Since then, Taiwanese companies have invested some $100 billion in China.

Analysts disagree on whether Lien's trip will help ease China-Taiwan tensions. Some say the former vice president and foreign minister can win Beijing's trust. Others say Chinese leaders are using Lien to widen the schisms in Taiwanese society.