CHINA> Taiwan, HK, Macao
Mainland envoy set for first visit to Taiwan
By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-10-31 06:43

Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, meets the press from Taiwan in Beijing October 30, 2008. Chen talked about his upcoming visit to Taiwan and cross-Straits relations and answered questions. [Xinhua]

Beijing's top envoy on Taiwan affairs, who is scheduled to visit the island next week, said Thursday that he is "standing at the crossroads of history".

Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), also stressed that he will focus on economic rather than political issues during the visit.

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"I am very excited to set foot on the lovely land to fulfill my years of expectations and long-cherished wish," said Chen, 67.

The top envoy heads a 60-strong delegation to Taiwan from Nov 3 to 7 for talks with his counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

He will be the first ARATS chief and highest-level mainland envoy to visit Taiwan since 1949.

The ARATS and SEF are authorized non-governmental organizations engaged in talks on issues related to cross-Straits exchanges.

A planned Taiwan visit by Chen's late predecessor Wang Daohan was stalled in 1999 after then Taiwan leader Lee Teng-hui defined cross-Straits relations as a "special state-to-state relationship".

Reciting the lyrics of a song eulogizing Taiwan's prosperity and beautiful sights such as the Sun Moon Lake and Ali Mountain to dozens of Taiwan and Hong Kong reporters, Chen said he has yearned to visit the island since his childhood.

He said he has read many books about Taiwan and made many Taiwan friends over the past decade.

The ARATS chief disclosed that he has even been trying to learn the local dialect to prepare for his trip.

"It will be my first visit to the island in the more than 10 years I have been working on Taiwan affairs," Chen said. "I feel like I'm standing at the crossroads of history."

Chen, who was appointed vice-minister of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office in 1994 and promoted to minister in 1997, was named ARATS head in June.

Chen said he regrets that he cannot visit southern Taiwan, home to most supporters of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), "because of a tight schedule".

Asked to comment on the planned DPP protest against him, Chen said many people had called him, asking him to be mindful of danger.

He, however, stressed that the meeting - agreed upon at a June meeting with Chiang in Beijing - needed to go ahead as scheduled.

"We could have waited but the financial crisis will not wait for us. We are brothers and should join hands to tide over the difficulties."

He was apparently referring to his mission to exchange views on closer cross-Straits financial cooperation to withstand the global financial crisis.

Chen said cross-Straits talks will avoid sensitive political issues and focus on economic cooperation.

"The mission is clear and well-defined. No political issues pertaining to cross-Straits relations will be involved, nor will Taiwan's internal political affairs."

Agencies contributed to the story