China demands Taiwan's ruling party drop independence clause before official contact

China on Tuesday offered Taiwan a gift of two pandas but reacted coolly to an invitation for President Hu Jintao to visit the island, saying it won't talk to the Taiwanese ruling party until it abandons calls for formal independence.

Beijing also offered concessions on fruit imports and tourism as Taiwan's opposition leader wrapped up a groundbreaking trip to China - in a bid for Taiwanese public support for unification with the communist mainland.

Nationalist Party leader Lien Chan's visit was part of Chinese efforts to isolate Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, whose party favors formal independence for the island. Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force.

Chen invited Hu to visit Taiwan to learn its people's desires and see whether it is "a sovereign, independent country."

But a Chinese spokesman said no official contact was possible until Chen's party gives up its "Taiwan independence party constitution" and his government endorses a 1992 declaration that the island and mainland are part of "one China."

Lower-ranking members of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party are welcome to visit China, but "Chen Shui-bian does not belong to that category," said Wang Zaixi, an official of the ruling Communist Party's Taiwan Work Office.

Lien's eight-day trip was the highest-level visit to China by a Taiwanese political figure since the Nationalists fled to the island after the 1949 communist conquest of the mainland.

The trip "finished very happily, smoothly and successfully," Lien said before boarding the plane.

About 3,000 police were sent to Taiwan's international airport as Lien returned Tuesday evening, removing protesters to avoid a repeat of violent demonstrations that erupted when Lien departed for the mainland.

Ruling party lawmaker Chiang Chao-yi unfurled a banner that read "Lien Chan, Shame, Shame" in the airport lounge. Police quickly took him away.

Beijing's offers gave Lien high-profile symbolic success to help deflect criticism from those in Taiwan who accuse him of selling out the island's interests.

His success could boost his party's platform of unification with China, while undermining Chen's independence-leaning policies.

In March, China enacted an anti-secession law authorizing military action should Taiwan move toward formal independence - an action that Chen said showed Beijing's lack of understanding.

"The problem with cross-strait relations is that the mainland doesn't have sufficient understanding of Taiwan, so they misjudged the situation," the Taiwanese president said during a visit to the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.

Lien began his trip in Nanjing, the capital when the Nationalists ruled China, and traveled to Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai.

"Wherever we went, we were welcomed by citizens who came voluntarily to show their friendship," Lien said. "This is the most precious experience for us to remember for every member of the delegation."

China will send two pandas to "compatriots of Taiwan," according to Chen Yunlin, director of the party's Taiwan Work Office.

Chen Yunlin said China would soon allow mainland tourists to visit Taiwan and said Beijing would cut tariffs on Taiwanese fruit and increase the number of species that could be imported from 12 to 18.

The offer of the giant pandas was widely expected in Taiwan.

Late last week, officials there already were bickering about what to name them.

A similar gesture by Beijing years ago was refused because Taipei feared it was part of a plot to foster unification.

One of the DPP's greatest concerns is that China will insist Taiwan accept the pandas as a local Chinese government rather than as a self-governing entity.

"If we accept the pandas that means we're admitting ourselves we're a local government," said DPP lawmaker Hsu Kuo-yung. "Our lovely next generation is more important than these two lovely animals."

But President Chen said the only thing that mattered was that Taiwan would have to respect international treaties on protected wildlife.

STEPHANIE HOO, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: Lien Chan

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