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Published: Tuesday January 28, 2014 MYT 2:40:02 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 28, 2014 MYT 2:41:04 PM

Taiwan, China to hold historic talks, but avoid sensitive issues

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's chief policymaker on China will meet his mainland counterpart in China in February in what will be the highest-level official talks between the two sides since 1949, but said on Tuesday he would not discuss "sensitive political issues".

The February 11 to 14 talks between Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Minister Wang Yu-chi and China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, who heads the Taiwan Affairs Office, will mark a big step towards expanding cross-strait dialogue beyond economic and trade issues.

China's ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its wing after taking control of the mainland in 1949. But economic ties have grown considerably in recent years.

"The trip will not touch on highly sensitive political issues," Wang told a news conference.

In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping said a political solution to the standoff could not be postponed forever. But Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou later said he saw no urgency for political talks and wanted to focus on trade.

Taiwan and China will discuss setting up representative offices in both places, Taiwan's participation in international bodies and issues on medical care for Taiwan students in China, Wang said.

Wang said the aim of the talks was to create "a normal communication mechanism so as to avoid misunderstandings".

The talks were "an important move," said Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, according to state news agency Xinhua.

"We hope and believe that this important step by both sides of the Strait will be conducive to enhancing communication and understanding as well as the joint promotion of future development of cross-Strait ties," Ma said.

The officials will meet in the southern city of Nanjing and China's commercial capital, Shanghai.

Nanjing was briefly the capital during the turbulent 1920s when Taiwan's Nationalist party ruled most of China. The city is also the burial place of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of modern China, who is revered by both China and Taiwan.

Ma opened Taiwan to trade with China when he took office in 2008 and they have since signed economic pacts cementing mainland China's position as Taiwan's largest trading partner.

But booming trade has not brought progress on political reconciliation or reduced military readiness on both sides.

Despite the close economic ties between China and Taiwan, U.S.-armed and backed Taiwan remains a potential flashpoint and its recovery is a priority for China's ruling Communist Party, which is investing billions to modernise its military.

(Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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