BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese Communist Party official said on Wednesday that Beijing was firmly committed to developing peaceful relations with long-time rival Taiwan, despite recent tensions over U.S. arms sales to the island.
China reacted angrily in January after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration unveiled its first arms package for Taiwan -- including missiles, helicopters and mine hunting ships -- saying it would impose unspecified sanctions on the companies involved.
But Beijing has largely aimed its ire at the arms sales at the United States rather than Taiwan, where the election of the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou in 2008 ushered in a warming of relations with Beijing.
Jia Qinglin, the ruling Communist Party's fourth-ranked leader, appeared to reinforce that message on Wednesday when he said it was important for China to promote cultural ties with Taiwan.
"We are firmly committed to the goal of peaceful development of cross-strait relations," Jia told the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a largely ceremonial advisory body that meets once a year in parallel with the national parliament.
"We will constantly increase contacts with political parties, organisations, social groups, influential figures from all walks of life and the general public in Taiwan," Jia told the more than 2,000 delegates in the cavernous Great Hall of the People.
China claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and has threatened to use force if necessary to unify it with the mainland. The mainland keeps more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island, the Taiwanese government says.
Under Ma, the two sides have signed trade and tourism deals, though there have been no direct political talks and military suspicions remain deep on both sides.
China has worried too about people in Taiwan's growing sense of detachment from Chinese culture, a policy encouraged during the previous government of Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
The Communist Party's Jia pointed to the number of cultural events and exchanges between China and Taiwan over the last year as benefiting cross-strait links.
"All this greatly enhanced the acceptance of the Chinese nation and Chinese culture by our Taiwan compatriots," he said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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