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China and Taiwan agree on more flights, tourism

Taiwan and China have agreed to allow more flights and tourist visits between them, after groundbreaking talks in Beijing.

Taiwan and China agreed Friday to ease decades of tight restrictions on travel and tourism between the mainland and the island state that Beijing views as a breakaway province.

The agreement, reached during groundbreaking talks in the Chinese capital, comes a day after Taiwan's representatives said they had reached a consensus with their Chinese counterparts on exchanging permanent representative offices.

Such missions would mark a huge step forward in establishing contacts and mutual trust, although Taiwan's chief negotiator, Chiang Ping-kung, emphasized that officials in Taipei still needed to approve the measure.

"There is still a long way to go for normalization of cross-strait economic and trade exchange," Chiang told reporters after the signing of the transport and tourism pacts.

Taiwan has banned direct scheduled flights from China ever since the sides split in 1949 amid civil war and victory for Communist forces led by Mao Zedong.

The new agreement allows for 100 charter flights every weekend between 13 different cities in both places.

Find mutually agreeable solution: Hu

Later Friday, Chiang and his delegation met for talks with President Hu Jintao.

Afterward, Chiang told reporters he had raised the issue of Taiwan's participation in international affairs.

"I told Hu ... that the two sides both belonged to the Chinese race and we should make positive contributions to the international community together," he said.

Chaing said Hu agreed with him, and suggested that Taiwan and China seek mutually acceptable solutions.

Beijing's Communist administration considers Taiwan part of its territory and refuses to recognize the government in Taipei, which means negotiations must be carried out by semi-official bodies.

The agreements reached this week are seen as a victory of pragmatism over politics, with the parties setting aside their ideological differences to strengthen booming trade and investment ties.

In other areas, the sides remain far apart. China continues to build up its military, especially its missile force, to back up its threat to invade Taiwan if the island declares formal independence or refuses demands for political unification with the mainland.

Beijing also opposes Taiwan's close ties with the United States, as well as Taipei's desire for diplomatic recognition and participation in the United Nations and other international bodies.