Tuesday January 20 8:16 AM EST Taiwan Spurns Beijing's Offer of Talks By Andrew Browne BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday offered political talks with Taiwan as soon as possible and said there were no conditions but Taipei immediately scorned the invitation as old rhetoric. "We hope the two sides can start formal political talks as soon as possible," Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang told a news briefing. "We believe there are no pre-conditions for these talks." However, Shen swiftly added: "One China is not a pre-condition because it is a fact recognized by both sides of the (Taiwan) Strait. Both China and Taiwan both must recognize that there is one China." Beijing has always made talks conditional upon Taiwan accepting its "one China" principle -- that the only China is the communist People's Republic and that Taiwan is part of the mainland. Taipei maintains China is divided between two sovereigns represented by the People's Republic on the mainland and the exiled Republic of China on Taiwan. "The so-called one-China principle itself is a pre-condition," said Sheu Ke-sheng, vice chairman of the Taiwan cabinet's policymaking Mainland Affairs Council. "This is something Jiang Zemin always emphasizes," he said, referring to the Chinese president. At issue is whether Shen's comments represent any softening by Beijing on a crucial point of national doctrine, or whether it is simply another twist in a bitter polemical argument between the two sides. Taiwan's Nationalist government has exercised sovereignty over the island since 1949 when it was driven into exile from the mainland after its civil war defeat by the communists. Three years ago, Jiang offered an eight-point proposal calling for landmark political talks to end Taiwan's estrangement from the mainland. Taiwan made a fresh appeal on Monday for resuming semi-official talks with China. The semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation reiterated a November 7 proposal for a visit to the mainland by its chairman Koo Chen-fu, but said it was still awaiting a reply. "So far we have yet to receive any official response from you," the foundation said in a letter made public in Taipei. "We await your decision." Beijing suspended talks between Taiwan's Koo and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Daohan of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, in mid-1995 after Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui angered China with a private but high-profile U.S. visit. Beijing saw Lee's U.S. trip as a bid to promote Taiwan's final independence from the mainland -- something it vows to use force to thwart. Shen denounced trips by Taiwan leaders to Southeast Asia, accusing Taipei of taking advantage of economic difficulties in the region to spread its influence. Taiwan has been wooing troubled neighbors lately with its vast wealth. Premier Vincent Siew visited the Philippines last week and went to Indonesia on Monday night. "Activities by the Taiwan authorities are unpopular and doomed to failure," Shen said.
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