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China Calls for Talks With Taiwan

January 20, 1998

BEIJING (AP) _ China called for immediate negotiations with rival Taiwan today, suggesting they could take place without the island first acknowledging China’s sovereignty.

``We hope the two sides can have political dialogue as soon as possible in absence of any prerequisites,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang told reporters.

Shen did not repeat Beijing’s previous insistence that Taiwan first recognizing China’s sovereignty over the island. But he did not drop Beijing’s principle that Taiwan is part of ``one China.″

``One China is not a prerequisite. It is a fact. It is a principle that all sides of the Taiwan Strait should recognize,″ he said at a twice-weekly news briefing.

In Taipei, a senior official with the body charged with handling ties with the mainland guardedly interpreted Shen’s remarks as a possible opening to stalemated ties.

``There appears to be a softening″ in China’s demands that Taiwan recognize Beijing’s sovereignty as a precondition for resuming talks, said Lee Ching-ping, deputy secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation. He added that Taiwan needs to see a clearer statement from China.

Taiwan, an economic powerhouse, has called for shelving the thorny matter of sovereignty and first negotiating simpler issues with China.

If Taiwan accepts China’s formulation as a breakthrough, it could restart talks broken off 2 1/2 years ago. The two sides have never formally ended a civil war that has run hot and cold for seven decades.

Shen made it clear at the briefing, however, that Beijing’s basic view of Taiwan as a rebel province has not changed.

Its ``consistent, clearcut, firm and unshakable″ position is that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and that Beijing is the sole legal government of China, he said.

He added that China’s offer for talks _ a three-year-old proposal made by President Jiang Zemin _ still stands. Taiwan previously rejected the offer.

Shen also criticized Taiwan’s leaders for trying to use the Asian financial turmoil to improve relations with Southeast Asian countries. China views Taiwan as a rebel province with no right to diplomatic relations.

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