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Taiwan president may meet China's Hu - paper

MYT 1:45:35 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - The expected election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to head of the island's ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) could pave the way for him to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, a state newspaper said on Thursday.

The official China Daily said that if Ma took over the chairmanship of the KMT, he could then potentially meet Hu in his capacity as head of the Chinese Communist Party, rather than as head of state.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou smiles while greeting reporters after a joint news conference with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (R, back) at the KMT headquarters in Taipei June 10, 2009. (REUTERS/Nicky Loh)

"Although Ma has to visit Beijing in his capacity as KMT chairman and talk to Hu in his role as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, the unprecedented meeting will signal 'great reconciliation'," the newspaper said.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's KMT fled to the island.

Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary. But KMT spokesman Lee Chien-jung downplayed the chances of a Ma-Hu meeting.

"That's Taiwan media's speculation and analysis. If it were the right time both sides could consider it. If Ma becomes party chairman, that would be the place to start. The difficulty for Ma is that he would have a double identity, president and chairman."

It is highly unlikely the two could meet as heads of state, as China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and says the island's government is illegitimate and illegal.

"He cannot visit China as president, but he can very well visit as KMT chair," said Shane Lee, political science professor at Chang Jung University in Taiwan. "It's quite an obvious action of bringing the two sides together politically."

The KMT decides on July 26 whether to appoint Ma chairman. He would take the job on Sept. 12.

Ma led the party until early 2007, when he stepped down as chairman over a corruption indictment involving his term as Taipei mayor. He was later cleared.

Wu Poh-hsiung, who succeeded Ma, has agreed to step down from the post. No one else is seeking the chairman's job, and no challenges are expected ahead of the July selection date.

Wu has visited China and met with Hu on a party-to-party basis, drawing only muted criticism on the island.

Ma was elected president last year on pledges to improve the island's economy by opening more trade channels with China, a global economic powerhouse. The two sides have signed landmark trade and transit deals during his term.

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