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Taiwan cautiously studies China’s goodwill gesture

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — China's invitation to members of Taiwan's ruling party was a sign that Beijing was beginning to understand political developments on the island, Taiwan officials said Friday.

But officials of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said they still were trying to understand what Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen meant Thursday when he invited DPP members to visit "in an appropriate capacity."

Some might be worried that the phrase means DPP members must agree with Beijing's "one-China principle" before they can visit. The principle holds that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

Since the DPP won the presidential election two years ago, Chinese leaders have ignored the party, which has refused to endorse Beijing's sacred goal of unification. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949.

Qian, China's top foreign affairs official, also said China realizes that the DPP only has an "extremely small number of die-hard 'Taiwan independence' elements."

This was a big departure from China's traditional view of the DPP as a group of separatists eager for war. China long has threatened to attack self-ruling Taiwan if it seeks formal independence.

The DPP platform says the Taiwanese should be able to determine the island's future with a public referendum.

In Beijing on Friday, the official China Daily called Qian's comments "an encouraging move" and a "bold policy change."

But one of Taiwan's top China policy experts, Chen Ming-tong, greeted Qian's remarks with caution.

"We are pleased to see that the other side has released messages that will help the positive interaction of relations," said Chen, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council.

Still, Taiwan is in the "process of understanding" Qian's remarks and could not respond in detail yet, Chen added.

He said Qian's comments show that China is beginning to understand Taiwan's mainstream after the DPP's presidential victory in 2000 and strong showing in legislative elections last month. For the first time, the party is the largest in parliament.